The Internet is fabulous for a lot of things. It’s a fabulous research tool. It’s great for buying stuff, it’s great for bringing together people to work on communal things, like software, or people who share a passion or are all suffering from the same disease and want to find each other and communicate. It’s wonderful for that. But the Internet in general—and social media in particular—fosters this notion that everything should be shared, everything is communal. When it works, it’s great. But it specifically doesn’t work, I think, in the realm of cultural production—and particularly literary production. Good novels aren’t written by committee. Good novels aren’t collaborated on. Good novels are produced by people who voluntarily isolate themselves, and go deep, and report from the depths on what they find. They do put what they find in a form that’s communally accessible, communally shareable, but not at the production end. What makes a good novel, apart from the skill of the writer, is how true it is to the individual subjectivity. People talk about “finding your voice”: Well, that’s what it is. You’re finding your own individual voice, not a group voice…
And this is true, especially true, for anyone who aspires to write serious fiction. When I first met Don DeLillo, he was making the case that if we ever stop having fiction writers it will mean we’ve given up on the concept of the individual person. We will only be a crowd. And so it seems to me that the writer’s responsibility nowadays is very basic: to continue to try to be a person, not merely a member of a crowd. (Of course, the place where the crowd is forming now is largely electronic.) This is a primary assignment for anyone setting up to be and remain a writer now. So even as I spend half my day on the Internet—doing email, buying plane tickets, ordering stuff online, looking at bird pictures, all of it—I personally need to be careful to restrict my access. I need to make sure I still have a private self. Because the private self is where my writing comes from. The more I’m pulled out of that, the more I simply become another loudspeaker for what already exists. As a writer, I’m trying to pay attention to the stuff the people aren’t paying attention to. I’m trying to monitor my own soul as carefully as I can and find ways to express what I find there.
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