When you work alone most of the time, and when you need the outside world to buy your products or bring you interesting commissions, you have to depend on some sort of communications lifeline. The question is; when does “dependency” tip into “addiction”?
It used to be the post. Every day I would be waiting eagerly for a precious letter of acceptance from a publisher, or an enquiry letter or – most crucially – a cheque. Most days there was that inevitable moment of disappointment when the postman was walking away leaving nothing of interest on the doormat or, far worse, a manuscript thumped in with a rejection letter.
Then I got a telephone line of my own and that became my lifeline. I hardly dared move out of earshot of its ring, (phones were still tethered to the wall). I dreamed of the day when someone would invent a cordless phone so I could at least go out into the garden while waiting for the wonderful calls that came so sporadically.
Before someone got round to the cordless phone, of course, there was the answering machine, and the excitement of a blinking red light waiting for my return if I should venture out for any reason. But then there was the inevitable “ping-pong” of messages back and forth between answering machines as I tried to get back to the person who had left the message – and everyone went home at five o’clock anyway and then I had no chance of talking to them till the next day.
Then the technology wizards created email and all was well. It was possible to communicate almost instantly, unlike waiting days or weeks for the post, and it avoided the time-consuming social requirements of phone calls. It also connected me to the whole world as easily as to my local village.
Today, virtually every exciting enquiry or communication comes through email. On average there will be two of three good ones a day. So now the problem is avoiding the temptation to interrupt the slog of actual writing to check these emails for interesting stories or offers.
I’m aware that I should now be doing all this on my smart phone, but I fear that may be a step too far for someone with an addiction problem. If my phone can literally interrupt me at any moment in the day, however inconvenient, would I be able to resist responding? If I were deep in an interviewing situation and an intriguing call came in from some exotic location or individual, would I be able to maintain the necessary levels of concentration? If I was at a family gathering and …. Well, that could be recipe for potential disaster, as anyone who has ever tried to walk the tightrope of a writer’s work/life balance will well know.