In 1997, author David Shenk wrote the book Data Smog: Surviving The Information Glut. He theorized that the explosive growth of information made possible by the Internet was both helping society make forward-progress while simultaneously overwhelming us, the individual. He later revisited his original ideas, and posited that some still held true.
In one section of the book, Shenk noted that with the use of computers, our geography of learning has become singular. That is, we read, learn, write, communicate, buy, and sell all from the same geographic place: in front of our computer. He was concerned about how well we would retain information, since our memory and retention of information is often tied to the place and situation in which it was learned. By limiting where and how we learn (in front of a computer, reading/watching a screen), we have the potential to lessen our ability to retain information.
The same can be said for the geography of writing. Where we write has an impact on what we write in three key ways.
Multi-tasking Is An Idea Sieve
We mostly write on a computer. While it might not seem different than sitting at a desk and writing on paper, or typing on a typewriter, there is a key difference: Our computers are connected to the Internet.
While blissfully able to do research right where we sit as we write, we are also able to “multi-task”, distracting ourselves with Facebook or email or the rabbit hole that is the Internet as we click and lose ourselves in web pages. Writers need to write. We don’t need any encouragement to be distracted and not write. Multi-tasking is a skeptical achievement at best, but for a writer, it can be deadly. It aids and abets idea loss, and idea distraction.
Multi-tasking is not the same as brainstorming or research; that is something we specifically sit down to do. When it comes time to write, our research and idea gathering should be done and ready to serve the larger purpose of writing. We should be ready to go. Don’t let our place of writing get in the way of writing.
Finding Our Niche, And Then Never Leaving It
Shenk believed that an information society wouldn’t necessarily bring about broader information gathering or an expansion of ideas, but would make nichification easier. That is, it would make the gathering of the kind of information we were already drawn to that much simpler, overriding most people’s desire to leap into something new.
Should a marketing blog be only about marketing?
Maybe. But, from a writer’s perspective (and probably a grateful reader, too), a marketing blog that includes topics not commonly thought to be associated with marketing has more value. Branching out and extending our learning and writing of content from beyond our tightly fenced niche means we avoid recessive inward-looking writing. Be aware that self-limiting niche writing can quickly lead to dried-up ideas and writer’s block.
Getting Inspiration From A Place
Where we write influences what we write. If we only write on a keyboard in an office while staring at a wall, our writing actually reflects that in subtle ways. It might show up in the broad topics we choose, or the words and descriptions we write. Our surroundings become like background noise, rarely offering new inspiration. The outside doesn’t influence, because we aren’t even aware of it.
How do you let what’s around you influence your writing? Does locality have any effect on your writing?
Let’s say we write a blog for businesses, and we are about to write on customer service. We could research examples online and rehash facts and other opinions. But why not go to a local coffee shop during a busy time, get our notebook or laptop out, and just observe what happens? Why not use actual observation of customer service in action to come up with ideas for our blog post on customer service?
Author Lawrence Durrell said writers can tap into the “spirit of place.” While we can’t always get away from our desk or computer, keeping a notebook handy to jot down observations or ideas when we’re out and about helps tap into that “spirit of place” and we are able to bring it back to our writing later.
Escaping Data Smog And Getting A Breath Of Fresh Air
How do we successfully address data smog when it comes to our writing?
- Consider where we write. We shouldn’t always write in the same place. While we might not be able to drag our computer everywhere, we can use a tablet, laptop, or notebook and pen in other physical locations and do some writing or idea generating or outlining. New environment, new inspiration. It kicks our imagination in gear because the stimuli, and ensuing memory of the moment, will be different.
- Consider writer’s block. Writer’s block has a distinct connection to the geography of place. One of the solutions we previously discussed was to change the place we write. It works.
- Consider your part. Write clearly and succinctly, keeping in mind that we don’t want to contribute to data smog. Cut the fat. It makes for better writing, and hit helps readers from being overwhelmed.
It isn’t just “creative” or fiction writers that should consider the importance of the geography of writing. Businesses and bloggers can benefit no matter what kind of content they are intending to generate. All writing is creating, and our creative mind works in amazing ways, picking up cues from everything. By limiting where we write, we limit what we write.