By David Swanson
Robert Fisk’s “The Age of the Warrior” collects 500 stupendous pages of his columns from the past several years. Fisk is, of course, the Middle Eastern correspondent for the Independent (UK) based in Beirut. He writes about Iraq, Turkey, Palestine, the United States, literature, cinema, genocide, whatever grabs his interest, and he does so with a great deal of honesty and courage. I couldn’t recommend the book more highly. It lives up to its rather epic title. But I have one point of disagreement, or at least divergent perspective….
Fisk inserts into his essays occasional jibes at the internet, which — like John McCain — he does not use. (Well, I bet he uses it a little more than McCain, but he doesn’t like to.) Or at least he thinks he doesn’t. The fact is that without the internet, a great many of us in the United States and around the world would not have the opportunity to read Fisk’s writing other than when it’s published in book form. Without the internet, I’d have a choice of two or three nearly worthless — scratch that, WORSE than worthless — U.S. newspapers. Maybe they’d be slightly better without the competition of the internet. Maybe they’d be slightly worse.
Fisk doesn’t even like writing on computers, and he does not like to be Emailed. I spend more time every day writing and receiving Emails than any other activity in my life. If I miss a day I fall hopelessly behind. I love the internet and have been able to use it to accomplish things I never could have otherwise. I love open-source crowd-corrected reporting, investigating, and activist organizing. I love multitasking. But I do have my complaints about Emails. They can miscommunicate. They can be improperly shared. And they can be as annoying as anything ever invented. Most of them have to simply be ignored, and others could be responded to were it not for the fact that responding will result in additional Emails.
I recently stopped using a cell phone, and I love the difference it has made in my life. But this was not much of a sacrifice in terms of my ability to communicate with people, since I can converse with many more people by Email than I can in the same number of minutes by telephone. What would make a huge difference would be ceasing to receive or reply to or send out Emails. And that’s what I’m going to try for the next month, from August 8 to September 8, 2008. I’m not going to use Email, not going to blog, not going to use a cell phone, not going to use a landline. At the end of the month I may have something to say about the difference it made in my life. There’s even the chance I’ll have convinced myself to stay offline for good.
That’s rather unlikely, though. I’m doing this little experiment, not to avoid the internet, but to engage in something else, namely writing a book. I don’t want to publish a collection of columns. I want to compose a single coherent book and publish it. Then, no doubt, I’ll want to blog about it too. I spoke with some publishers about a year ago, and they expressed interest in publishing a book by me, but they all wanted to see roughly half the book and to know in detail what the other half would look like before giving me an “advance.” In other words, the “advance” comes after you’ve pretty well written the book. I have a lot of books in mind that I want to write, but I can’t describe them in detail without actually writing them, and I can’t write them or accomplish anything else at all while the internet is surgically attached to my fingertips. So, I’ve decided to simply vanish for a month, write a book, and then show it to the publishers. They can give me an “advance” then, or simply buy the book. We can pretend it took me 8 months to write if they think that sounds better. Little do they know what an eternity 30 days offline will be.