Shakespeare had it easy. Writing an 800 -word column while withstanding the siren call of online rumor? Thats a literary triumph
Addicts talk about making “rock bottom” with their evil, and bearing in mind the fact that I am definitely addicted to the internet, I know exactly when I reached mine. It wasn’t the multiple times I Googled the 1990 Bacardi advert five minutes before a deadline, strictly to relive that glorious instant from my youth when booze advertised itself by promising it would build you so booze you would fancy your Aunt Beryl. Nor was it the times my children tried to get my attention but I was otherwise engaged in the deeply important undertaking of ensure how many likes a photograph of them got on Instagram.( I should call social services on myself but I’m looking something up on my phone, so I can’t actually use it to make a call. Sorry, children !) No, it came three years ago in a hotel chamber in Los Angeles.
Now, I enjoy Los Angeles, but instead of enjoying the palm trees and the hipsters on this trip-up, I invested it inside my hotel staring at my laptop. Person back in Britain had taken deep offence at a throwaway line I’d written about- and I swear I’m not making this up- the salaries of footballers and, as is the way with such things, marshalled their online troops so that hundreds of people were hollering at me on Twitter. For two days, I tried to engage with these furious warriors, because having all these angry voices coming out of my computer induced me feel like the most loathed person in the world and I was determined to fix this. On the third period, my boyfriend called and ordered me got to go, leave my phone behind and take a break. So I did. And as I sat on Santa Monica beach, I realised my relationship with the internet had to change.
It’s easy to hate the web for becoming us all into narcissists with ADD, and probably easier for me than most. My life is now spent in this weird tug-of-war of alternately relying on the web and fighting with it. I have no mind how I’d do my job without it, and when I watch movies about columnists set before its advent it is, for me, like watching movies about people who lived without indoor plumbing or modern medicine. How did they function?
On the other hand, I do genuinely believe Shakespeare, Jane Austen and anyone else who are seeking to do stuff before the internet had it easy. OK, they didn’t have the aforementioned indoor plumbing, but any muppet can write The Tempest if there’s nothing else to do but catch smallpox. But writing an 800 -word column while withstanding the siren call of online gossip? That’s a literary triumph.
When I started working in 2000, the only contact I had with readers came in the form of the very, very occasional letter. Now people tell me, at all times of day- by email, by Twitter, in comments beneath articles- exactly what they think of my job. As my rock bottom minute in LA proposed, that can be unnerving, specially if you try to engage with people, as I do. I is very easy to invest five times as long dealing with the reactions to my articles as I do writing them.
But I don’t hate the web. Aside from all its obvious advantages- I can go shopping without the inconvenience of getting off my butt, I can keep in touch with pals abroad- it has brought some more unexpected joys. So, yes, strangers can yell at me- but they can also be lovely to me. One of my favourite things about the web is the other female columnists I have met online, who now offer each other advice, supporting and many, many jokes. And that’s nice, isn’t it?
Second, sure, some readers get angry about footballers’ salaries, but others teach me loads- including things I wouldn’t inevitably read in my own tiny, real world. Once, some readers got cross at me for objecting to Beyonce featuring in a sexy photoshoot, photographed by the creepy Terry Richardson. Young, principally black women tweeted me, pointing out I hadn’t recognise sufficiently how important it was to have a black woman celebrated as sexy. And guess what? I hadn’t. So while I preserve my objections to Richardson were definitely right, my criticisms of Beyonce probably weren’t.
But most of all, the web has taught me- an inveterate people-pleaser- that I can never please all the people. So I need to stop trying and instead write what I truly believe, and then get on with my day. It took the web to teach me to stop looking to others for validation, and as benefits go, that might even beat access to old Bacardi adverts.