Commentary by Cherie Jung

You are not an android. Neither am I. So, let's stop pretending we are. Okay?

And while we're at it, let's remember that computers are not our friends. They were invented, or so I've been told, to ease our workloads. They were supposed to save us time not just make our workload three times heavier than it was before. If you think about it, they are stealing time from us.

Oh, it's not a popular opinion, I'll grant you. But being unpopular doesn't mean it isn't true...

Recently I found that folks submitting short stories and articles to our magazine had come to expect us to not only be online twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but to be available to them, on that same basis, for questions and complaints. While we at Over My Dead Body! try to be writer friendly, we came to the conclusion that maybe we've been too friendly.

Answer an email query the same day it comes in and pretty soon, people begin to expect that. If left unanswered for some reason, say I was away from the computer at a doctor's appointment, by the next day, the sender has sent me two more emails. One to ask why I didn't answer the first email and another one to "follow up" on the one seeking information about the first one. If the telephone goes unanswered, the answering machine quickly fills to overflowing (and shut down) with queries about whether or not I am ever going to respond to those emails that I haven't responded to yet. And then other staff members begin receiving email asking the recipient to ask me if I'm ever going to answer the original email that was sent to me. It's a vicious cycle.

I would love to be able to respond to everyone within minutes of receiving his or her email or telephone query. However, the reality is this. On good days, I get about 300 email messages (not counting the junk emails, spam, chain letters, offers for bulk email addresses, and pornographic advertisements). On bad days, the number soars to over 500. (And let me assure you, I already receive all of my email group messages in digest form. I don't count them as email either. They come in, I move them to a folder, and pretend I'm going to read them in my spare time.) Plus, with my recent experience of being infected by a nasty computer virus/worm, I am not willing to skip merrily through emails at a breakneck speed. These days, I am very cautious...even with emails from friends--especially with emails from friends. That's how I got the virus/worm in the first place.

When we started to bog down, one of our staffers (please remember that all of our staff are essentially unpaid slaves, erh, I mean, volunteers) suggested that we just slow down and hold each email for two days before answering it. Hah! If only we could speed up and answer everyone within two days! No, this is a symptom of an insidious condition that is sweeping the writing world. Instant access. Aaargh!

I blame computers.

If you had to write or type a letter instead of an email, would you send so many out each day? Hah! I'd like to meet the person who could or would send out that many letters in a day. I'd lock them in a closet...without any pens, pencils, paper, crayons, or typewriter. And no telephone either!

But please, bear (bare?) with me a moment. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? If instant access is a bad thing -- or at least an over abused thing -- and I have a computer, am I a victim? Am I one of the abusers? And, to take this notion one step farther, if I've gotten sloppy, pushy, annoying (pick the adverb that applies to your situation) in my email endeavors, what has it done to my...(gasp!)...writing?


See, I'm weaving a web here. Gathering the threads. Seemingly disparate ideas are now converging.

Computers may have made the mechanics of manuscript preparation easier but have they made it better? Are your stories better? Are your books better? Are your emails better? (Oops, don't let me get me started on emails again!)

All I'm saying is that maybe this is worth thinking about.

Wasn't it Charles Dickens, no-- Tolstoy, who had his wife hand write his novels? Several drafts...

No, no, no! That old argument won't work. I know they didn't have computers back then. That's not the point! Sheesh.

The point is, if you had to manually write out each of your stories, or novels, would you write it exactly the same (content wise) as you are doing now? Or would you tighten things a bit to save you from chronic writer's cramp? Would you sit at your desk with a well thumbed thesaurus and dictionary at your side, or would you just use the words you already know and can spell because you can't call them up on a software program in the background of your Microsoft Word program if you're using pen and paper, now can you?

I'm not saying all computers are bad. Just that they may be less helpful than you imagine. And that maybe it's time to take a fresh look at not only what you are writing, but how you are writing it, and see if the two compliment each other or are actually interfering with you doing your best work.

And in the meantime, I've instructed my staff to take the weekend off. No, seriously. They have my permission to not answer any emails, including any I might dash off to them, until Monday morning. Or late Monday afternoon...

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