Discovering the Relevance of Words
“Nope. Can’t use that reference. No one knows who that is.”
I don’t care anymore if you’re immediately familiar with my references. I don’t have to care about that anymore. You want me to Google that for you? You’re an adult, look it up.
This was the original draft for this post, in its entirety.
Then I thought that maybe it could come off as a bit terse. Rude, even. This is, of course, is not at all my intention. I love you guys, in almost totally appropriate ways. But I have been thinking lately about my favorite style of writing and the constraints that traditionally came along with it.
When, as a young man in a high school writing class, I first heard the words ‘stream of consciousness’, a great weight was lifted off me. I hated cramming my ideas into premade forms. I wanted to open up my head and show people my thoughts, and this seemed like the most direct way to do it.
It was also the end of my solipsistic delusion that my thoughts would make any sense at all to the rest of the world.
“I don’t get that reference.”
“Who is that?”
“I’ve never seen that show.”
My mind has always worked by jumping from one cultural reference to another. It’s a kind of shorthand. If I can invoke a feeling by reminding you of a movie that already has that feeling associate with it, it’s a real timesaver. But it soon runs into obstacles. Not everyone watches or reads the same things I do. If you have never seen ‘Over the Top’ with Sylvester Stallone, my college admission essay might not make any sense to you, for example. You’ll at least miss a lot of levels.
Luckily, Al Gore came along and invented the internet, and somebody, (Santa maybe, or Steve Jobs) invented Google. And, baby, did that change the game.
Suddenly, people weren’t so afraid of things they weren’t already familiar with. The ability to look things up on your phone no matter where you were had the simultaneous effect of making people less afraid to do so. They weren’t demanding to be written down to anymore.
I think references are vital to writing, and I doubt anyone would disagree. I’m also not saying that allusion and context hasn’t been always been important to literature. Most people my age were introduced to Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’ by Bugs Bunny. Just look at all the footnotes in your poetry anthology, providing context so you can figure out what the hell Samuel Taylor Coleridge is talking about. Referencing the outside world makes your work better and makes your audience better.
What instant access to information has done is cut down on popular resistance to the act of looking things up. Finding information used to be homework. Surfing the internet has made it recreation, and so made people way more likely to do it.
I’ve never been afraid to embrace the ‘stream of consciousness’ style, but now I don’t have to ask myself whether or not anyone else knows who Nick Cassevetes is.
Google knows all.