You learn how to use time. You don't have to learn how to wash the dishes every time you do that. You already know how to do that. So, while you're doing that, you're thinking. You know, it doesn't take up your whole mind. Or just on the subway. I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in that packed train, where you can't do anything anyway. Well, you can read the paper, but you're sort of in there.And I looked at my iPhone sitting black and serene on the desk. How my blank time has changed since it entered my life. And I'm going to grandiosely generalize and make that an our, since every line I stand in is a row of people finger-stroking a little screen. Even waking up in the morning--that moment of easing into consciousness as the world materializes again, sorting the dream from the day and trying to make sense of it--has changed. Too often I cut it short, reach for the nightstand, and look for what the device has brought me in the night. Which is? E-mail.
And then I would think about, well, would she do this? And then sometimes I'd really get something good. By the time I'd arrived at work, I would jot it down so I wouldn't forget. It was a very strong interior life that I developed for the characters, and for myself, because something was always churning. There was no blank time.
For years now I've clenched my fists under the table at the friends who can't stop texting during the board game, who pause dinner conversation to attend to the clinking-glass sound of their iPhone, and so on, whose attention is divided between the here and the there.
It's annoying. But even worse, I think, is what it does to solitude. I tell my students that you can write everywhere, in your mind--in the shower, walking across campus at night, during the orchestra concert, etc. I solve a lot of story problems when I walk the dogs (notably, a two-handed affair). But alone, walking home or waiting in line at the post office, how often do I compulsively, absently pull out the iPhone and check something or other? Vs. what did I do before?
Nothing will doom writing, per se, I'm not saying that. But I think a lot of us are missing out on those unplanned moments where we go places in our minds. We look at the weather app instead of the sky.