Google-Writing is Vapid and Superficial
James McAdams | May 17th, 2020
I’ve learned to identify writing that relies too much on Googling for details. The problem is that this kind of Google-Writing is vapid and superficial. I see this in my recently published collection Ambushing the Void, my own writing classes, and as an editor and reader for literary journals. Characteristics of this affliction: unnecessary erudition and quoting, specialized details (oceanography, Iberian cuisine, the evolution of the DSM), everything a tad too perfect. Anecdotally, as an editor for Barren Magazine, I sometimes see descriptions (of characters’ faces, tropical resorts) copy/pasted from online dating profiles or Trip Advisor sites. In my own collection, I see arcane discussions of ARPANET, POTS syndrome, the history of obituaries, etc. I realize of course that writers have researched before the Internet, but I’m not the only one who sees this as a notable trend. Writing in Uncanny Valley, her account of millennial S.F./Github start-up culture, Anna Weiner describes trying to read after a long day of surfing the ‘Net for work:
Sometimes I worried about my internet habits and forced myself away from the computer, to read a magazine or book. Contemporary literature offered no respite: I would find prose cluttered with data points, tenuous historical connections, detail so finely-tuned it could only have been extracted from a feverish night of search-engine queries […] Oh, I would think, turning the page. The author is addicted to the Internet too.
As an example, remember I’m writing a book about rehabs. Here is a paragraph I wrote about some meds that the narrator’s in charge of dispensing to the residents (or clients). This is a job I had way back in the day:
At Derek Jeter Rehab Center-Delray, meds are dispensed between 7 pm and 9 pm. I’d start with the early sleepers at the sober house on 999 Swinton, then swoosh on Freaky Fred’s moped through the back alleys and garbage docks behind the strip mall to the sober houses on 9th and 10th streets, between the head shops and the Amscot. I dispensed Suboxone, SSRIs, SNRIs, B-Vitamins, and retrovirals for the needle users. On a PRN basis I gave them: hemorrhoid cream, Midol, hydrocortisone, aloe vera for suntan relief, dimethicone for chapped lips, Immodium A-D., ativan. Sadonna was the last client to move into the “renovated” Bugle Sea Motel after Tara overdosed.
So does this look authoritative? I know 80% of this from research (actual research) but “dimethicone for chapped lips,” for instance, was a result of Googling “medication for chapped lips,” since many people in recovery have chapped lips…I’m not sure why this is, maybe a nervous habit or maybe systemic dehydration.
Another sentence from the story/chapter: “We secretly called them “Coins,” as in cryptocurrency.” Here I wanted to suggest that I was an “insider” with actual knowledge of the various subterranean terms insiders would use. This comes from Urban Dictionary, which is always open when I’m writing.
This is too easy, right? Experience has to be hard-earned, research comes from love and dedication, good writers are products have a developed or intuitive sense for details. But all of this can be simulated almost 100% in less than a minute with a search engine. I’m a hypocrite, but I think writers should stop doing this. The alternative, however, is….what is the alternative?