Timothy Donnelly: The Internet's Impact on Writing

Alex asked just to speak for a few minutes about what kind of impact social media Facebook Twitter Tumblr and the Internet at large has had on our work I'm on facebook so I'll get to that in a moment I'm not on Twitter or tumblr so I can't say anything about either of those really but as far as the impact that the Internet at large has had on my work I'm prepared to say a few words I'll start with an anecdote my seven-year-old daughter has a subscription to chop chop which is a food and nutrition magazine geared towards kids and their families while thumbing through it recently I came across a sort of a sidebar with some bullet points about the habits of bees I've always had an affinity for bees and I love honey and I love to walk through herb gardens like the ones up at the cloisters where there are tons of bees in the summer sucking connectors from the heliotropes in the mints and whatnot buzzing all around us like little cartoon helicopters with so much work to do they don't pay any attention to you or to what you're doing so thumbing through chop-chop i came across the following fun facts one to make a pound of honey and i remember that they measured it by weight that way to make a pound of honey the average colony of bees has to visit approximately two million flowers and two to make that same pound of honey a colonies colony of bees has to fly collectively approximately 50,000 miles okay so this was interesting enough already right but it's really the next fact that knocked the wind out of me especially in the wake of these more or less unfathomably massive figures I can't even imagine two million flowers and 50,000 miles that's literally more than one-fifth of the weight of the moon but what really did it to me what really did me in was this the fact that three the average worker bee and the whole of its lifetime produces approximately one twelfth of a teaspoon honey yeah one twelfth of a teaspoon this pretty much destroyed me I mean I I love honey as I said and it mortified me to think that I could easily consume the life work of a dozen DS without even thinking about I could just thoughtlessly swirl it into my hot tea not that I really drink to you all that often but when I do it's like the life work of 24 bees at least that I squeeze into it I don't know how much honey I thought an average be made in its lifetime but I'm sure I didn't think it was so heartbreakingly little and I was sitting there on a mint green wingback chair and I felt all this recalculation going on in my head well with the 2 million flowers and the one fifth of the weight of the moon and all this regret for my former thoughtlessness and the sorrow interpreted with admiration and wondering gratitude so you know when I get that kind of feeling or that complex of feelings that usually means that i'll end up writing a poem about it or about whatever provoked that feeling and whether that be a full-blown fact that did this to me or else just a mere factoid or else a phrase or even an image that I respond to for whatever reason when something stops me in my tracks that way or even just resonate strongly in me it usually means that it brings together or tugs on at least a few of my psychic threads now admittedly this has nothing to do with the internet directly since it has to do with reading an actual print magazine it might actually be anti internet but I don't think so because whether it comes in the form of a link I follow on facebook or a message in my inbox or a news article or an academic paper on JSTOR the Internet is obviously so unfathomably full of information it rivals the bees two million flowers only each of them leads to another two million flowers and each of those flowers leads to another two million so here's the big revelation access to all this information has had an impact on my writing I come into contact with more flowers than I used to much more so than when i lived merely in print culture now of course the risk or at least the fear is that I'll become so deadened by the vast and discriminant extent of it that i'll end up having the same half-mast oh okay sure i guess whatever response to pretty much everything i encounter maybe i'll be more accepting but i'll also be more complacent and Nerat and stupid so far i don't think it's happened yet though like for example back when we underwent super moon 2012 you'll remember was May sixth and that in the words of Wikipedia a super moon is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon but the closest approach of the moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit resulting in the largest apparent size of the moon's disk as seen from the earth the technical name is the pair agree syzygy of the Earth Moon Sun system you remember well when someone first posted something on Facebook about the super moon I followed a link that brought me to a story on space.com about how the moon is moving away from the earth at a rate of 1.5 or 1.6 inches per year and it has been from the beginning it's like Rilke and the 10th do we know elegy and so we live forever taking leave and a lot of poets unlike a lot of poets I to love the moon as much as I do bees and I trick myself into thinking I have a special relationship to it or really to both so when I found out that the moon has always been gradually drifting away like it's walking backwards and towards the door nice and slow like it's hoping I don't notice and I don't get all startled and I try not to take it personally but when I found out I did I did take it personally it's embarrassing it's embarrassing that I took it personally and embarrassed it's an embarrassment that the moon is moving away from us like it can't stand up Richard we keep trying to get closer to it and it keeps backing away and the fact that this departure will have eventually really disastrous effects on the planet millions of years from now granted really shouldn't make me feel like a little bit defeated already but it does and it shouldn't make me feel like oh why bother but it kind of did and the truth is of course it will have disastrous effects on the in itself as well so I mean it's far off in the future don't worry but also this all left me sort of like in a state of awe too so I ended up writing a poem yeah that incorporated this heartbreaking fact although it took me something like four months to let it ferment and cluster with other facts and feelings and matters of interest including lyrics from a favorite Whitesnake song I kept listening to on Spotify or YouTube and some facts about the town of secaucus and the origin of its name all of which I found on the sort of town of secaucus website plus descriptions of a couple of bogle paintings about both of which I was able to find online and beautiful sort of high pixelated reproductions and now on line two is the poem thanks to the Academy the Academy's Hannah Andrews so now of course the risk or at least the fear is for me that this kind of practice will in the end amount to an annoying and superficial kind of magpie mashup production seeking about and an amalgamating of whatever flashes or catches my eye like a cheap ass ricki poetics that's nothing better than a just barely literary form of compulsive shopping the whole of everything flattening out into a foil of constant chatter instead of deepening into a search for what might actually still matter and the truth is I don't feel cheated or duped or threatened enough by life yet or by literature to want to do that to it or not that exactly

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