My name is Sandy, and I am an addict.
I don’t have the slightest desire to drink or shoot up or snort cocaine or throw away money at a casino. But don’t ask me to live without the internet.
I didn’t realize the depth of my dependency until my last computer began its agonizing limp toward the recycling bin.
Motherboard. It sounds so benign, doesn’t it? Comforting, trust-inspiring – until you discover that your computer has the Joan Crawford version.
My computer was “only” two years old – any geek would say it was old as dirt, but to me it still had the blush of youth – when it suddenly began losing its memory. One day it informed me that I had no keyboard attached. I assumed the keyboard was at fault. After all, the thing had enough cat hair buildup to stop any electronic device in its tracks. Three keyboards (serial and USB) later, the computer was still reluctant to acknowledge that one was attached, and it had also started rejecting my trackball and randomly crashing applications. A long telephone conference with a nice young man named Gary, who for some reason spoke with an Indian accent, ruled out all possible problems except the very worst: the motherboard was dying.
I ordered a new computer and frantically began saving files to an external disk during the old computer’s rare functional moments. I couldn’t write, and even worse, I couldn’t get on the internet. Withdrawal set in. I cast covetous glances in the direction of my husband’s computer. I needed my e-mail. I needed DorothyL and the Guppies. I needed my panda groups.
Writers still talk about the loneliness of the writing life -- the wordsmith sitting in solitude day after day, cut off from the world, living in his or her head. But such laments don’t ring true when they appear on chat lists with hundreds, even thousands of members. Company is as close as a click away. Online companions are so numerous, so talkative, so much fun that no writer should have trouble coming up with ways to avoid actually writing.
In addition to being a boon to lonely, procrastinating authors, the internet is an agoraphobic’s dream. You can order anything from books to pizza to cat litter online without ever having to leave the house. You can even get your head examined online, as my blog sister Elizabeth Zelvin, an online therapist, can tell you.
Shy people can become social butterflies, experiencing the intimacy of friendship without having to put up with the friends’ physical presence. On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, and they don’t know you’re shy either. If you do meet your online friends in the flesh, you’ll be instantly comfortable because you already know them so well. And, of course, you can rush home afterward, go online and exchange dozens of e-mails about how wonderful it was to see each other f2f.
On a broader scale, the internet allows writers to spread the word about their books in a way that could not have been imagined 30 or even 20 years ago. The author who doesn’t have a web site is an oddity these days. Genre writers are all over the web, popping up on an ever-growing number of chat lists to talk to readers and other authors.
It’s fashionable to moan about the death of “real” letter-writing as e-mail takes over, but you’ll get no complaints from me. I’ve heard from many readers who might never have bothered to send fan letters if they’d had to write them on stationery, stick them in envelopes, and drop them in a mailbox. I’m a long way from bestseller status, but I don’t believe I would have achieved even a modest degree of success and fame without the internet. And I can go online and find cops and FBI agents and experts of every stripe to answer my research questions. What’s not to love about the internet?
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – there’s plenty not to love. Spam, ads on web sites, articles brimming with factual errors, idiots who start rabid flame wars in otherwise peaceful discussion groups (including – I kid you not – one group I’m in that’s devoted to giant pandas). But that’s life, the bad with the good.
The first online community I belonged to was Compuserve, back in the days when it was a members-only subscription service with an amazing 400 forums covering every subject imaginable. I was a sysop (unpaid staff member) on the writing forums, and that was where I first “met” real authors, including Diana Gabaldon and Jack Olsen, who didn’t mind talking with and advising the lowly unpublished. I still have friends I made on dear old Cserve. In time, AOL bought Compuserve and set about reducing it to a shadow of its grandest form, but by then I had a connection to the wondrous worldwide web, and I’ve never looked back. The internet has literally altered my existence, in only positive ways. So naturally, the first thing I did when I set up my new computer was connect it to our DSL and go online for a net fix.
My friends in the Guppies have been waxing nostalgic lately about the days of typewriters and carbon paper, but I haven’t heard anybody say they want to turn back the clock.
How about you? You’re reading this, so you must make a habit of going online. How has the internet made a difference in your life? Has it all been positive, or have you had some nasty www experiences?