Time to step away from the internet – it's addictive
I think it was on the fourth day of our holiday that I realised it was time to stop looking at the internet. I had turned around in my seat in front of the computer to ask my boyfriend if he'd heard of a BBC weather forecaster named Tomasz Shafernaker.
"Because apparently he was caught on camera flipping the bird to a newsreader! Look, there's a video of it!" The mouse cursor hovered over the 'play' button on the YouTube clip. Just as I moved to play the video, I thought of the two novels sitting by my bed, waiting to be read. I looked at the skies outside, beginning to brighten after two days of rain. I had a choice: I could watch this utterly pointless clip, or I could pull the plug on this machine and go outside. It's a decision that seems to get harder every summer.
If the addictive quality of the internet means that it can interrupt holidays, it stymies any serious effort to work, think or create. Even the greatest minds confess that they often find themselves struggling in the invisible snare of the world-wide web. In an interview with Time magazine this week, Jonathan Franzen described the extreme lengths he went to in order to cut himself off from virtual distraction while writing the follow-up to his 2001 bestseller, The Corrections.
He wrote every day in a hired office, a bare room containing just a table, chair and a basic laptop. But a room is never truly one's own if it's Wi-Fi-enabled. Franzen not only removed the wireless card from his Dell laptop but, just to be sure, permanently blocked its Ethernet port.
"What you have to do," he explained, "is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw the little head off it."
Not all of us need to forcibly disable our internet connections with glue and a hacksaw, partly because the world and his agent isn't waiting for us to produce a 1,000-page Great American Novel. And I don't compare my desire to relax in the sunshine and enjoy a holiday with a writer's desperate need for long-term solitude (Franzen's new book took nine years to complete, despite his precautions.) But lots of us will recognise the frustration his actions reveal.
The internet is a fascinating and liberating medium. You'd have to be a loon, or the now-disgraced Tomasz Shafernaker, to argue otherwise. But it does need to be switched off on occasion, perhaps more often than that, and we don't all have the self-discipline to do the disconnecting ourselves. I sometimes long for those childhood moments when, as I sat in front of the TV, a parent had entered the room, strode over to the box and pressed the 'off' button with a stern "That's enough."
Otherwise, will we not only miss out on the pleasures of holiday and relaxation, but risk becoming befuddled by the rhythms of this hectic, breathless, jabbering medium? Franzen, a man with a better understanding of human nature than most, also criticises the constant state of distraction caused by a flow of information from the net. It's a state, he argues, that allows people to avoid difficult realities – and he argues reading (a novel, not a tweet) is the opposite of that busyness. "The place of stillness that you have to go to to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can...actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world."
There is an unexpected upside for fans of his novels. He's been forced to become a more gripping storyteller, he says. "It seems all the more imperative, nowadays, to fashion books that are compelling, because there is so much more distraction they have to resist."
I hope more of our writers are up to this challenge. For the second week of my holiday, I managed to ignore the computer, mostly by avoiding the room in which it sat. But it was oddly difficult, and I'm afraid that my experience could be typical of a generation who are coming to find that their laptops are the most "unputdownable" read of all.
We love the French look, so why don't they?
Today I've spotted six. On Sunday, just in the 40- minute journey between the Eurostar terminal and my front door, I saw almost 10 – three were in a group together on my road. Girls in white-and-navy Breton stripes. Never has a trend caught the female imagination as the classically chic design beloved by French peasants and adopted by Gabrielle Chanel for her garconne look.
Interestingly, for the two weeks I spent in France, I saw exactly one woman wearing a stripey top, and I think she might have been Swiss. French women don't get fat, and they don't wear horizontal stripes – a notoriously enlarging pattern – even when the said design is practically national dress. Are the two connected?