Writers Who Click
Recently the Times ran an amusing article on people who remain disinterested in IT, pointing out that 4.8m people in the UK are Neo-Luddites, with no smart phone or access to the internet. Not a very large proportion, and certainly lower than in the US, where 14% of the population doesn’t go online. But as Rosie Millard points out, if you say ‘net’ to her sisters you get the reply ‘curtains’. Her 86 year-old mother says her husband is the designated internet user in their household. ‘While he’s alive I’m all right.’
There’s a gender disparity, with fewer male users. And an age disparity, of course, with above fifties less likely to engage, despite the ubiquity of ‘silver surfers’. I asked my friend Maggie how she constantly crashes her tech and found out she unplugs everything at night, never updating apps. Plus, she treats texts like letters, thinking nothing of writing five pages of text in a stream-of-consciousness outpouring.
But isn’t it just a matter of time and access before everyone signs up? No, because those who won’t follow the pack are unpersuadable and have made a conscious choice not to join the now-not-so-new revolution. What’s more, we’ve started deciding just how much tech we want in our homes. My front door, heating, TV, computer and music are all controlled online. I can let in a delivery from the other side of the world via my phone, but do I need a fridge that tells me when food if past its sell-by date? Hell no.
Writers often have longevity in their careers, so there’s a surprisingly large percentage of non-users. ‘I suppose you’re one of these people who do The Twitter,’ said one elderly lady novelist, looking at me disparagingly and making it sound like a 1920s dance. But while she may be right – no writer needs to be distracted by photos of meals, cats and people falling off skateboards – she misses out in her career advancement.
Increasingly, we run our own publicity campaigns, to the point that have made traditional publicists redundant. The only advantage PR agents (and travel agents) have is time. It takes many working hours to source and book tours or holidays, and each hour we lose is an hour where we could have been writing.
There’s also a taboo subject publishers don’t like readers to know; because the internet is image-heavy, the better-looking authors are promoted, and those who know their way around a blog tour have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. In Hollywood writers are known to employ younger, more attractive avatars to take their meetings.
I don’t get to physically tour like I used to because now blog tours are organised online. But most publishers still don’t fully grasp the nettle when it comes to tech, and only just manage a few tweets when they’re publicising authors. Because reading is a passive and private pastime, it’s perfectly suited got a better wedding with technology. I work for several publishing houses, some of whom I think of as analogue, others who are digitally-oriented. Those with in-depth tech knowledge know how to work their writers much harder.
What readers don’t want, it seems clear now, is any form of interactivity in reading. Various friends have written interactive multiple-ending books that have failed, and video games make lousy film adaptations, because in writing, plot and character remain crucially important. The answer is to embrace tech cautiously, but don’t frighten anyone with drastic moves.