Digital Dwellers: the power of writing in the modern age

Digital Dwellers: the power of writing in the modern age

Our Poet-in-Res explores ideas around what our rights in the digital age

7 June 2017  //  Remi Graves

Our Poet-in-Res reflects on the past few turbulent weeks

We’ve come to the end of my six weeks as Digital Poet in Residence, and a lot has happened. 72 % of young people turned out to vote (a small yet significant victory), Theresa May has decided to form an alliance with a party that believes in illegalising abortion and  thinks breast- feeding is ‘exhibitionism’… , and my fav Ocean Vuong has been nominated for A Forward Prize for his stunning debut collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds. What a time to be alive. Current affairs have definitely offered up several topics for me to digest and critique through the lense of Magna Carta and its founding principles. Though Magna Carta was initially drafted more than 800 years ago, I’ve sought to relate it to our modern life, through exploring themes such as Form and Subversion, Word and Image, Utopia and Bodies and Borders. Similarly, The British Library has worked on bringing Magna Carta into our present – and even our conceptual future by drafting the idea of a Digital Magna Carta.

In honour of the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta in 2015 The British Library commissioned various projects around the hallowed document, including one specifically aimed to bring our discussion into the future. Their concept of a Digital Magna Carta prioritised the importance of online safety and rights, and invited school children and adults alike to draft  Top 10 clauses for the document, which focuses on our rights as digital dwellers). The vote revealed an overwhelming consensus that people want to maintain freedom of speech on the internet, to use an uncensored internet available to everyone worldwide – and that companies should not profit from our data. A more poetic clause (which sadly didn’t make the top 10) was the idea that the ‘internet should help us find where we need to go’. A poignant comment, particularly in relation to poetry, which I believe held a similarly prophetic, guide like role in the pre-internet age. Whilst it’s a stretch to say that the internet and poetry are kin, there are certainly parallels to be drawn between the two. Both allow us insight into experiences other than our own, and facilitate the explorers in us, the parts of us that seek lessons beyond our lived experiences, or else seek to better understand the things we have been through.

When thinking about the role of writing in this digital age, the succinct and poetic words of Nigerian author Teju Cole come to mind:  


And bold as it may be to add words to Cole’s musings, I’d add writing as wrighting; the act of crafting and or repairing. I’m drawn in by the view of writing as a reparative spell, a linguistic call to healing. This residency has been an excellent excuse to push myself to write in more direct response to current affairs, and to try to bring about healing surrounding many injustices currently taking place. A tall order of course, but it’s been invigorating just trying to do so. Whilst I’d argue that anything a person writes is inherently influenced by the world around them (whether explicit or not)  it has been a fun challenge to try to respond to specifically political happenings. The writing that I’m drawn to usually dwells in the intimately private and personal, so it’s been great to try and marry that pull with more general comments on the political climate. Who knows if I’ve done it to any good effect but I’m mighty grateful for having the opportunity to try it out – and for having this platform to share it on!

Whilst this may feel like one emotional ramble, there is a thread tying these loose thoughts together. When thinking about life in our digital age, and the online experience – distraction is the main word that comes to mind. The way we live our lives today is steeped in multiplicity, facing several screens at one time, multiple tabs open – listening to podcasts whilst we watch cats on youtube – there is not a moment where we aren’t tapped into overlapping experiences.

And I’ve come to realise that much of my poetry comes from wrestling and wrighting with these distractions, and furthermore creating thanks to them. This constant state of referral and overlap of content has actually helped me to see connections between themes that perhaps would not occur if I was writing by my coal fire in the candlelight. Thus, looking toward the future in this final week – I’d like to explore the idea of Digital Dwellers. What distractions and difficulties we face in the online landscape, how are freedom of speech is afforded and threatened, and how this affects the creative process at all.  As digital dwellers we now have Theresa’s Snooping Charter to deal with rather than King John’s unjust land laws (though the housing crisis in London and beyond suggests we still have to tackle the issues faced by people in 1215 as well).  What can be gleaned from the digital landscape and its limitations as creative fodder, and how accepting distraction (rather than fighting it) might help the creative writing process? Follow this week’s posts to find out more and try out some exercises for yourself.

For now here’s St Vincent’s Digital Witness – what sticks out to you in this song?




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