Your True Self Fries Away

Facebook is crack.”–Henry Higgins (John Cho) on Selfie, a cancelled TV show


Karen Gillan and John Cho in "Selfie" (a canceled sitcom)

Karen Gillan and John Cho in “Selfie” (a canceled sitcom about social media addiction)

In a recent review in The Washington Post of the scientist Susan Greenfield’s new book, How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains,  I was fascinated by her thesis that the internet ruins lives.  She cites a Korean couple whose baby starved while they pursued video gaming.

Although the reviewer Matthew Wisnioski is not a fan of Greenfield, I felt a pang of recognition as I read his recap of some of her evidence. He begins the review:

This is your brain on digital technology. A flick of the thumb sparks a pale glow. You wait for the dopamine rush of an incoming message. Like a pathological gambler, you check again. And again. You feed your narcissistic impulses with tweets. Lacking face-to-face cues, you knock a “friend” down a peg on Facebook. Keeping loneliness at bay, you “like” a few others. Hours of catapulted birds later, you finger the off button. Repeat the cycle. You hardly notice as the synapses of your true self fry away.

How well I know this feeling.   I do not tweet and I do not do Facebook, but  I have certainly been an internet addict. When I first went online the ’90s, I found a site that was rather like Goodreads, except people wrote much longer posts and  IMed constantly.

That addiction, however, was nothing compared to my blogging addiction. When I began Mirabile Dictu a few years ago, I resolved to post every day. Why? I still don’t know. I enjoyed the project for the first year. I enjoyed it less last year. And then I found I was reading less because I posted so much. And that’s frightening, because posting is not, in my opinion, the same thing as writing.

Has blogging ruined my writing? It certainly ruined my reading.  When I discovered that I was reading less, I decided to cut back on blogging.

And so I am carefully measuring out my time online.  Thank God, I have managed to read one book a day this year.  Because that’s who I am, you know?  A reader.

The internet can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Blogging is a wonderful opportunity to express our love of books, and I have become acquainted with several bloggers and generous writers who agreed to be interviewed here.  .And yet lurking at the back of our minds is the knowledge that many critics and writers mock bloggers.

Didn’t I tell you about the time Lynne Sharon Schwartz plagiarized a passage from my blog?

Her last novel, Two Part Invention, was a story of plagiarism. Based on the story of Joyce Hatto and her husband William Barrington-Coupe, a recording engineer who snitched musical phrases from other artists and synced them into his wife’s recordings, the novel is a sympathetic take on the couple’s strange enterprise, with names and details changed. The characters don’t quite come to life, the writing is flat, I was ready to put the book down, and then I came to the part where she “borrowed” an incident from my blog.

I had posted about trying to get ice for my mother at the nursing home, and noted that I could push but not too hard because I  didn’t want anyone to hold it against her as a patient. I added a few lines about my mother’s former pushiness when I was in fourth grade.  I wrote,

It’s like the time in fourth grade when she complained to my teacher when I got a B instead of an A in geography. For the rest of the year, the teacher humiliated me by asking, “Are your grades good enough for your mother?”

In Schwartz’s novel:

Her quarterly report card gave him nothing to reproach her with. Until, in the fourth grade, she presented a report card to him as usual for his signature… He gave the report card a cursory glance, a small folded four-sided document on stiff paper that attempted to look official. He was searching for his fountain pen, when he noticed the B+ in geography.

Christ, she didn’t even bother to change fourth grade to another grade .

All right!  I’m over it.

Except for a few little things.

Such as that it’s immoral.

Merriam-Webster tells us that plagiarism is:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

In other words, it is unethical.

I like to get credit for my own work.

It must be quite a blog if sleazeballs think they ought to plagiarize it.

Are they high-fiving each other?

And what on earth must their creative writing students endure if their teachers feel free to plagiarize?