Friday, January 30, 2009


My favourite living author thinks my life would be so much better if only I do two things: Take that bloodclaat out of my voicemail greeting, and stop blogging. Turns out his creative writing students, while admiring my book seem to hate my blog. I’m not sure why they hate it, fine maybe I could be less opinionated about things, but his remark came right in the middle of unrelated but nonetheless similar expressions of blog/internet distrust, dismissal, and ignorance that I’d been hearing all that week.

I know that your reading this means I’m preaching to the converted, but I was so taken aback by the pointless webism of the people I spoke to that I thought I had to write about it. Webism, a clumsily created term to be sure, but it’s mine for misguided luddites who think they score points for authenticity or old-fashionedness by being luddites, but are actually elitists, reacting to a movement that moves laterally rather than through some top-down hierarchy. They’ve become the very kind of smug people that reach for a value of a past generation that never had such a value in the first place, people simply unaware that their elders grabbed for the innovations of their own time, knowing instantly what we do not; that these things are supposed to make our lives better.
But elitists are just ignoramuses with pedigree, a slightly exalted version of the people Chris Rock talked about whose greatest pleasure is to not know. I’m not amazed that in 2009 some people don’t have a cell phone, but I’m stunned that they think it’s a good thing. It only takes one child in an emergency and them unable to reach you for you to regret the error of such a position. And another thing, stop begging calls.

My friend will of course kick my ass for the previous paragraph but at least he has a website, so he knows what time it is. But even those among us who’ve given in to dreaded e-communication, blanch at Facebook, Myspace, and blogs for all sorts of reasons, none of them sensible. My good friend, an African poet recently snared at the very thought of a facebook page, and even now when I whip out a phone to update my status I get labeled everything from an attention seeking hound to a loser with no real friends. So while my friend was happy to boast of having no “space” page, I politely pointed out that the new wave of African literature was happening without him. Only last year, Binjavana Wainana mentioned that it was the Internet that allowed African writers to build community. Many of these writers, some still in repressive regimes have seen the means of communications co-opted by their governments. But the Internet has been one of the few things those governments could not fully control. So Wainana in Kenya can become friends with Chimamanda Adichie in Nigeria, and a new network, a support system arises that can speak truth to power or at the very least let the world know.

What would we have thought of the last flare-ups in Lebanon, had young Lebanese kids not grabbed their digital cameras, and uploaded to their blogs or cut and pasted to Youtube? Would you have known the real story and would you have been left warm and cuddly all over, the way we were after Desert Storm? Because if you’re not one for blogs and websites then you’re a sucker for spin. And while we’re on spin what about the stories that the traditional media refuse carry? If you’re a webist, you probably didn’t hear about Alberto Gonzales until the mass media started covering him. Congratulations, those of us in the blogosphere knew about this a year before you did. For almost two years Albert Gonzales was getting away with astounding corruption and only one source, Joshua Marshall’s blog, Talking Points Memo, was reporting it. In fact, the story would have died, and Gonzales still in office had TPM not stuck with the story, at risk to itself, until the mainstream media finally woke up. And if you think that was just a one off, you’re again, missing the point. One of the nastier stories of the Iraq War has been the military’s allegedly occasional practice of demanding that wounded and maimed veterans return their signing bonuses because they did not complete active service. Again, a story that would have caused national outrage had a single major newspaper been interested in it.

This anti-internet luddism came as a particular shock to me because I was at a low residency degree program, something that would have been unthinkable pre-internet. Without it I would still be degree-less and miserable in Jamaica, writing ads telling people how good we are at making them better. I wished I had a community of writers back when I started writing, somebody to tell me I wasn’t crazy for trying to do this.

I know them’s fighting words. But anti-internet snobbery is a blank and ignorant dismissal of something that has clearly empowered others. It makes me recall Kiran Desai’s brilliant takedown of Naipaul in The Inheritance of Loss, when a character said (I’m paraphrasing) that Naipaul was so up his own colonial ass that he may the only person to not realize that the most popular dish in the UK was Chicken Tikka Masala. Again ignorance with pedigree, a refusal to believe that anything good can come out of anything new. A refusal to see that his people have moved beyond his own tired stereotype of them. The truth is that people like Naipaul know, but may never admit, that the world has simply moved on without them. I can bet he’s never even heard of M.I.A.