While attending a graduate writing program back in 1982, I was one of the few students who knew the rudiments of word processing and could make use of the university’s computer lab. We were required to turn in “clean” manuscripts for our theses, and my fellow writers were tired of typing the same page over and over; so I earned money many evenings sitting in front of a machine the size of a dorm refrigerator inputting the messily typed, or handwritten, short stories and novels of others.
After graduating, I moved to New York City where I learned how to use the Wang while in a word-processing pool at a business-consulting firm. Still, despite my precocious, entrepreneurial beginnings with the then-new technology, I stagnated in acquiring new technological skills once my children were born. Of course, I got a desktop, and then a laptop, and managed to learn to navigate both P.C.’s and Macs. But even once my sons were grown and out of the house, I eschewed smart phones, let alone Facebook, Twitter, or things as basic as learning to upload photos.
Part of my reluctance was because I felt protective of my time and need to ponder. I feared becoming overwhelmed by too much communication and information, identifying with the character in an old Roz Chast cartoon, “Inside One’s Memory Bank,” who says, “Move over, American history, backgammon, and how to make good drip coffee, ’cause here comes MY NEW FAX MACHINE!!!” I believed my brain was taxed enough trying to keep my characters straight and my themes evolving. Also, there was something really nice about being M.I.A. from my email whenever I left the house.
Perhaps another reason for my resistance was that, for the last six years as I wrote and rewrote (and rewrote) my new novel, I have been immersed in the past. Set in 1978, the book tells the story of Nora Plowright, a rookie reporter who takes notes on a pad and types on an IBM Selectric with a carbon copy. When my protagonist’s car breaks down at night on an isolated stretch of road, she has no cell phone. Back then, the pace of the news was much slower, and Nora spends a lot of time alone with her thoughts. Similarly, I am a person who likes to sit on my hall steps for ten or fifteen minutes each day, staring into space. Even with the allure of wonderful podcasts and books on tape, I often drive in silence, musing.
Nevertheless, with my novel Just the Facts being published this September, I am planting my feet in the 21st century at last. With assistance, I have created, and am learning to maintain, this website, and I have reconnected with many people from the past on Facebook. I must confess, though, that I often, purposely, leave my new I-Phone at home so that I can lose myself in the big, wide world.