Where would we be without the internet? Better off, some might say better.
- We wouldn't have bandwidth envy, silently seething while friends in the city brag about their fibre optic capacity.
- We wouldn't have the push-button insistence that our email (complete with smiley, naturally) was answered within a few minutes because, godammit, we know the person is online. We know that because they've just responded to our previous literary gem.
- We wouldn't have the craving neediness of social networking sites - to gather friends we'll never meet, exchange virtual presents we can never use and share cyber-kudos we only achieve through mutual back-scratching.
- We wouldn't have spamming, scamming, phishing, viruses and 'send this to 10 people and all your wishes will come true - it really works'. (Except when the wish is not to receive those emails anymore.)
Okay, you'll say, but the internet has democratised access to information. Well yes, and therein lies the problem. Celebrities and politicians have a habit of dying and resurrecting on wiki sites, like latter-day Dr Whos. Conspiracies abound on the net, fracturing the issues into opposing camps, without any resolution. Information is there in abundance but the facts may be hard to come by. According to the net, not only is Elvis alive, but he's still available for bookings.
Internet dating sites can be a licence to write fiction, but it's real people who can get hurt. The sense of immediacy can beguile people into mistaking it for intimacy. Of course you have so much in common, you optioned the same choices from the pull-down menu and selected one another on the basis of shared interests!
And for freelancers, there are other minuses. The information superhighway generates its own special kind of road-rage for us. If you sent a letter with an SAE, you might reasonably expect a response within a couple of weeks. But send a pitch email or even an electronic submission and you might end up waiting forever. It's virtual neglect.
Freelancers might be tempted to check out the many project and bid sites, especially the writers. If you do, you might not like what you see. A Walmart mentality is in vogue, with would-be employers posting ads declaring "$1 an article, 10 articles a week required. If you can't work for this amount, don't bother contacting me." And of course, there are people out across the globe, for whom $1 represents a reasonable return.
One thing's for certain, the internet and email are here to stay. Use with caution. They make wonderful servants but terrible masters, and rather ambiguous friends.