Thursday 11 July 2013

Can writers live without the internet?

Well, I’m pretty taken with it but others seem even more attached. I’m not one of those people that are forever checking the phone for Tweets, emails and Facebook messages. If I’m out and about or teaching, the world can wait. However, at my desk or alone in a hotel or on a journey I’ll look at it all at regular intervals and both my mobile and my laptop alert me when a new email comes in – and my emails tell me if I have new Tweets or Facebook messages.

How I use the internet

I punctuate my desk-bound work by checking Twitter and my email, both personal and work. I go through both email accounts with a tooth-comb at least once a day and once my writing’s done for the day, I’ll respond to urgent ones or quickies as soon as I can.
I communicate with nearly all of my publishers, the people I publish and those who look after my properties by email.
I do quite a lot of research on-line.
I find social networking an effective marketing tool.  
I plan my journeys online.  

Realising it’s gone

So, when we lost much of the functuality of our broadband service seven weeks ago tomorrow life became a little challenging.
We think it started with a power cut. It was a very short, odd one, where we think something must have blown because all those electrical items that have overriding batteries also had to have their clocks reset.  
The next day, the connection got slower and slower and then stopped altogether. It kept doing this over the next few days. A bit of a pattern emerged. It would start late afternoon, give up the ghost completely by about 5.00 and then come back on in the mornings. Except Fridays where it was often off from about 10.30 until Saturday morning.
We phoned BT several times. We got Susan or Dave in India who followed their script with remarkable accuracy. We were fobbed off with a new router and a new account – even the woman who processed the router agreed this was nonsense. An engineer came to the house. “You’ve got noise on the line,” he said. We already knew that. There was still no willingness to contact Open Reach. There was an assumption that it was something in our house that was causing it. At no point did we say we were unwilling to pay the £99 to have that identified though we quite certain all of our electrical equipment was in order. BT seemed remarkably unwilling even to do that.  
And anyway we could have told BT that noise on the line was a problem. My husband has a PhD in physics and works in IT. We know what’s what.
After several conversations with third line managers, and some communication with BT on Twitter, Open Reach arrived last Thursday. They put in a new line but also referred us to the REIN team. The Open Reach engineer had to wait about 90 minutes to get through. “They’ll phone you when they’re going to come. Or they might just turn up.” The Open Reach engineer also confirmed that six households near to us were having the same problem.  
By Tuesday nothing had happened and it was actually getting worse. We phoned BT again – it’s impossible to get an appropriate option. I tweeted. We got a phone call from BT@Twitter. The REIN team were in our local exchange. Can we say “I told you so?” Are the REIN people such reclusive experts they don’t communicate? Or so over-worked they don’t have time to?
Twitter phoned again yesterday. So far, so good. Except that it went lumpy yesterday evening and went so slow it was unusable.
It’s been all right today – but it’s only 5.15 p.m. Twitter is phoning again on Saturday. It’s a bank holiday in Ireland.

Working a different way

I’ve had to adopt a different working routine. Process all the work emails, do necessary uploads and downloads and find out all of the information I need whilst the broadband is robust first thing in the morning. I have to resist the normal Twitter and Facebook chitchat until the more urgent work is complete. And when the broadband goes down or when I’ve finished all the essential bits and pieces I start my writing.
It’s not ideal. I’d rather write before I clash with the trivia of the day. If I leave it until later I can be quite wound up or have used too much creative brain space already.
On some days the “up” time has not been long enough. We do have a mobile account as well but two of us have to share this – we don’t want to pay for a second, though at least BT have agreed not to charge us until the fault is corrected. The dongle can’t do everything, though. Plus, I don’t have enough USB sockets, even with a spider, so I even have to use my computer differently.   

Working without the internet  

It’s amazing how many things I can’t do without the internet. Most of what I do is connected with my writing or with my teaching creative writing at university. And most of what I do involves uploads or downloads or referring to online documents.
Even in my straight forward writing, which at the moment is a biography, I am constantly referring to the internet. Which weekday was the 15 July 1930? What did young children wear in the early 1930s? What about all of that correspondence about the closing of the Waldorf schools? I have to make a lot of notes on what I need to check later.
So the answer to my question: probably not. At least this one finds it very difficult.            

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