There are a zillion data points of light out there

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article by Marie Myung-Ok Lee.

Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches writing at Columbia University in New York and is also the author of the 2005 novel Somebody’s Daughter. I hadn’t heard of her before stumbling across her recent column in the New York Times, titled The Internet: A Welcome Distraction.

She’s a spritely writer with an eye for just the right metaphor. Here is one, in her defence of the power of the Internet:

The World Wide Web is uncurated, which means that there are a million, zillion data points of light out there (Google was indeed named for the number “googol”— 10 to the 100th power). At any given moment, 99.9 percent of it is extraneous, irrelevant, but that’s exactly what I need: an endless pool in which to wallow and do the backstroke.

I like her casual and uncredited reference to Peggy Noonan (the speechwriter who came up with the thousand points-of-light line for former president George H.W. Bush.) And I enjoy the specificity of the backstroke metaphor.

I also buy her argument that the Internet isn’t entirely bad. (It boggles my mind that Jonathan Franzen would disable the Internet by by plugging an Ethernet cable into his computer with super glue. What kind of a fool does that sort of thing?)

I turn off  the World Wide Web (and my email, Facebook and Twitter) when I’m writing. But otherwise, I love it. It allows me to connect with the world in a vast number of exciting ways. It opens doors instead of shutting them. And I think it can help all of us become better writers.

As long as we know when to turn it off.

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