A milestone of sorts: yesterday I wrote my first story by thumb.
I was coming home on the train when I had an idea for a story. Instead of rummaging in my backpack for pen and paper, I took out the new smartphone I got the other day (the first one I’ve ever owned) and started to text out a rough draft of the story using the note-taking app. It was slow and laborious (I’m not a practiced thumber) but I got the main ideas down before the train arrived at my stop.
As I was walking along the station platform it occurred to me I could keep working on the piece -- it would be easier to walk and text than it would be to walk and try to scribble with pen in a notebook. And I thought, with this gadget I could get a lot more writing done in a day! I could be writing while walking to and from the train, while on the train, while walking just about anywhere, eating dinner, shopping, sitting in a movie theatre, talking to friends … any of those times I’ve seen other people texting on their phones, I could be writing.
It was just a brief crazy thought. Writing is not something that works well with multitasking, at least not for me. And I remembered the gentle warning given by Robert Kroetsch in his talk about the future of story a couple of years ago. He saw a lot of promise for the renewal of story in social networking, but he also wondered what would happen to our ability to think if “the thumb replaces the mouth as our means of communication.”
Hmm. I don’t know. My thumb isn’t any less a part of me than my tongue. It’s attached to the hand, which has been busy making up stories ever since writing was invented. It’s just another means to reach out across the gap between people.
I’m not worried I’m going to become Tom Thumb, the texting author. But I notice more and more people these days who apparently can’t go a minute without using their phones, even when they’re with other people. If I’m going to have anything worthwhile to say with my stories, then I can’t be writing all the time. I have to take the time to notice, experience, and reflect. I can’t always be avoiding the boring, unpleasant, painful, perplexing moments of life. I have to be here for them. I have to live this life so that I can write about it.
I suppose that’s what Kroetsch was really getting at. The real danger of the gadget is that it will fill up every moment with distraction. It will allow us to escape from life, and each other. We’ll be so busy “communicating” that we won’t see and hear one another anymore.
(Illustration: "Portrait of the Artist as a Thumb" taken on my smartphone and emailed to myself.)