Ann Kjellberg asks: Is there a role for strong, considered thinking in our digital future?


Editor par excellence

Ann Kjellberg is known to many as the executor of the Joseph Brodsky Estate and a former New York Review of Books contributing editor. We’ve published her views of Joseph Brodsky translations of his verse into English here. She is also the editor of the journal Little StarBut for last year, she has taken on an additional role – she’s also launched Book Post, a subscription-based book review.

From her latest post, “Notebook: The Writer of the Future”

… the promise of the “free” internet, a public square where the best ideas rise to the surface, seems increasingly remote. Recent events have shown not only how easy it is to game the system, but that the system by its nature juices our most destructive impulses. Anger, fear, conflict—these drive clicks, the “engagement” that whips up user data, and the algorithms that determine what we see respond to engagement: a digital fight attracts engagement just as violence draws a crowd. “Whenever something significant happens it attracts negative emotions,” [tech pioneer Jaron] Lanier says, “negative emotions are the most addictive patterns … You engage people by ruining society. That is the current business model.” Algorithms reacting to the worst in us organize what we see; plus the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 repeal of net neutrality enables industry heavyweights to buy our attention outright.Writing (read, any creative endeavor) begins in solitude. An editor approaches a solitary person, a person who has given long thought to something, whether a creative idea, or the product of careful research or analysis, something they have nurtured alone in order eventually to share it with others, and helps them navigate this transition, from thinking to disclosing. I began Book Post a year or so ago because I was looking into this feverish swamp of disclosure, where ideas are told to move fast, to scrape up “engagement,” to become “viral” (formerly a bad thing), and I wondered how strong, considered thinking is going to take hold in our digital future. What happens when people who develop substantive ideas cannot be compensated, and, on the other side, when readers and consumers are not provided with good information? News journalism has strong defenders, but what about other, slower, more fundamental ideas, the ones that ground our culture and inform our values?

She discusses the predicament of the writer, and her hope “to create rooms in which writing can grow,” here.


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