Zadie Smith: The Internet is an absolute disaster for writers
I first met Zadie Smith in the summer of 2001 at a book signing in San Francisco. I waited in line with a friend for her to sign my first (American) edition of White Teeth. After she did, my friend, who didn’t have a book, approached her, and she signed his right arm. She also drew a dotted line around it and wrote “Cut Here.” I love her work for that very sensibility and humor.
Last night Jonathan Safran Foer interviewed Smith at NYU. (She has a collection of essays, Changing My Mind, coming out later this year.) I’ve read several polemical essays and books written in opposition to Internet culture. And I read them because I have the sense that life used to be different ten years ago, and, in many ways, it was better. Even four years ago, I was better able to concentrate on long projects than I am able to now; in short, the current iteration of the Internet has killed productivity—productivity at the things that actually matter. I think Malcolm Gladwell was right, in many ways, when he called Google “the answer to a problem we didn’t have.” But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone convey the problem as powerfully as Smith does in the snippet of last night’s interview that you can watch above. She calls the Internet “an absolute disaster for writers” because she spends too much time on Facebook and Google, and she imagines a generation of children who won’t know how to concentrate because they grew up with this Internet. And what will you get when everyone grows up with the web? Rebels who reject it! It’s powerful because Smith critiques with a seriousness that is funny rather than earnest, engaging rather than alienating. “Cut here,” she seems to say, “I dare you.”