This post was sparked by an interesting article about teenagers and the internet by Amy Goldwasser, for Salon, which you can read here.

We’ve all been told that  screens are rotting our brains. You’ve read about why I don’t think movies and television are at all brain-rotting, even the supposedly trashy TV shows. The same goes for the internet, but even more so!

Many kids and teens have limits on how long they can use the internet, or at least, their parents (like mine) think they spend too much time on the computer. They think we’re killing off brain cells, but the truth is so far from that!

And, yeah, okay, it’s possible to use the internet in brain-killing ways. You could play stupid games or watch crudely humorous Youtube videos for hours. But many of us don’t do that at all!

We read. We write. We communicate. We think. We learn. All in front of a computer screen.

Hard to believe for some of the adults in our lives, isn’t it? That some of us use proper English and research topics interesting to us (YA books, for one!) and write about things we’re passionate about (whether it be books or politics or music or just our lives) and communicate with our friends through text–surely this is better for literacy than talking on the phone being the primary means of communication!–and connect with people all over the world (a blessing for people who can’t fit in where they are physically).

My parents wrote far less than I did when they were teenagers. They didn’t have this canvas for free expression that I do,: the Internet. The internet enriches lives and minds; it doesn’t ruin them, anymore than older technologies do! I’m sure there were people who thought the printing press was an evil modern invention back in 1453 when the Gutenberg bible was first printed.  Nobody thinks books are brain-rotting anymore, and computers will come to be accepted, too.

I particularly like what Amy says about the internet freeing us from having to memorize trivial facts and freeing up our brains for deeper issues, and I think it’s right on. I did know the date of the Gutenberg bible without looking it up, but I don’t know, say, the dates Napoleon was in office. But, with a few keystrokes, I could have that information. What do I know? The effects Napoleon’s time in power had on Western Europe and the Americas. I know how that connects up until today. I know that nationalism as we know it today originated with the French revolution. I know that I believe nationalism will be the end of us. I understand history, even if I don’t know the dates that my parents were forced to memorize, because I have a teacher who understands that true understanding is far more important than trivial facts I could find out in seconds! I understand, I make connections, I have opinions.

Shouldn’t that apply to life in general, not just history? Shouldn’t the big ideas be more important than the trivia, especially when the trivia is so easily accessible?  Aren’t many in older generations just as resistant to this change as they are other changes–in music, in clothing, in whatever they choose to gripe about. The internet opens up an entire world that used to be inaccessible. It means I can practice my Spanish without leaving my desk chair–much cheaper than going to Spain–and connect with people who share my love of reading, and like the same books I do. The internet, if only we use it in the right way, enriches our lives, just like so many other things said to be rotting our brains.

We control ourselves and our lives. We say who we are, and if we say we are intelligent individuals and use technology to our advantage, then that advantage is huge.

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Previously, I’ve only had interviews of authors whose novels I’ve reviewed. Now, though, I’m branching out to other aspects of writing and publishing! Amy Goldwasser is the editor of Red, a journalist, and an editor.

Could you briefly summarize your background in writing and editing?

I’ve been a freelance editor and writer—mostly writing, about a 90/10
mix (I find writing really, really hard and anxiety-inducing)—in NYC
for seven or eight years. This is kind of unusual, for an editor to be
freelance. Usually the editors are on staff, the writers freelance.
Which means publications bring me in for anything from fill-in’s (doing
that at Elle now, two days a week for a year, for a staffer who’s on
book leave) to, my favorite, getting to make up magazines, on launches
and relaunches. I edit and write, pretty regularly, for/with people I
like to work with at whole range of magazines, including New York,
Vogue, Seventeen, the New Yorker, Runner’s World, US Weekly, Modern
Bride. Before that I was a staff editor at Metropolis, Epicurious, a
very early “content-provider” (this was 1996) site called Charged,
which was “extreme sports/action leisure,” and Outside magazine, both
in Chicago and Santa Fe. I studied English and creative writing in
college, at UW-Madison and the Sorbonne in Paris for a year. I teach
editing in the Columbia Publishing Course, writing with the Lower
Eastside Girls Club. I love teaching, and putting together RED has been
closer to teaching than anything else in a way—always my goal, to make
that my day-job.

You read hundreds and hundreds of essays by teen girls while
selecting 58 for RED. Judging from that and the other work you’ve done
with teenage girls–like at the Lower East Side Girls Club–how do you
think that the experiences of being a teenager have changed since your
own teen years? What will always be the same?

The overwhelming, disturbing change I can think of is the proliferation
of eating disorders, cutting, any body-image issues. They’ve escalated
at an alarming rate in past 10-15 years. I was shocked in these essays
I got that cutting was so commonplace, girls could identify the
different kinds of knives people they knew used. Sure, I knew people
with eating disorders, but seemed like more of a minority. Another big
one is that with the Internet and the social networks, there’s no
longer this divide between your home life and your school life—which is
both good and bad. There’s no relief, nowhere to run, into a family who
ideally thinks you’re the greatest. But also means you can find friends
and can essentially search the world for likeminded people; you’re not
stuck in the school, town, home your parents chose for you.

But these are all just different manifestations, behaviors. That
feeling that you’re alone and emotions are so raw is so much the same
that RED can be a painful read for women in their 20s, 30s. It never
really goes away.

What were you like as a teenager?

How to sum this one up, hmm. If I’m being critical, I think I was
probably too much of a hypocrite: I was one of those girls who floated
between groups. I was friends with the popular girls and the stoners
and the yearbook committee—which probably meant I wasn’t very true to
myself. So there was this appearance of popularity and social
butterfly, but of course, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I always
loved to read and write and needed a lot of time alone. And I was ahead
in school, since kindergarten, so I was always the youngest, always the
overachieving nerd in grade school. I tried too hard to make up for
that later… Appearance-wise, uch, nothing worse than the late-80s! I
graduated in 88, huge mullet hairdo, electric blue sweater. My mom has
that picture up in her living room, and I always turn it away, even
now.

How was working with teenagers for RED different than working with
professional adult writers?

The teenagers are so much more surprising and original. I never knew
what I was going to get, and that was one of the best parts of this
experience. But I don’t mean any offense to professional adult writers:
Just that we all learn how to behave and please, and our idea of the
personal essay has become so formatted. In 800 words, you introduce
problem, low point, epiphany here, then it’s all OK in the end. I love
that younger writers don’t *behave* like this; they start and end in
the middle. Sometimes it’s all dialogue or one paragraph or no arc.
Love that!

You’ve worked on a lot of different types of jobs and projects.
There’s RED, of course, but you’ve also done things like editing
magazines. What are you doing right now?

I’m currently adapting RED for theater—this one’s brand-new, so I’m
learning a lot—writing for a few magazines (the New Yorker, O At Home),
and I’m editing, personal essays whenever I can, at Elle two days/week.

Do you have any general advice for teens who want to make a career
out of some kind of writing?

Just keep writing, really, and don’t be a snob about labels or where
you’re “published.” You have the means now to get your writing out
there, online, do it. I’m also a huge proponent of sending genuine fan
mail to any author/blogger/magazine you like—as long as it’s real,
you’re probably going to get a response and learn something. Writers
and editors are by definition kind of anonymous, or at least think they
are, and they’re susceptible to flattery. And you as a young,
intelligent, sincere person complimenting their work is disarming and
irresistible.

What about editing–any words of wisdom for the aspiring editors
out there?

Same really, but sadly the general public doesn’t seem to know what
editors do, and writing appears to be the glamorous life. I take
editing over writing a thousand times over, mostly for my
personality—you’re in control as an editor, YOU have the ideas, you
shape the book/magazine, then you get to assign out and work with your
favorite writers, and they’re different all the time. Plus there are
jobs in editing. Writing can be solitary, and a really tough way to
make a living.

I’m sure you’re a big reader, loving words like you’ve got to, to
do what you do. What are your favorite books? What magazines do you
read religiously?

More favorite authors than favorite books: Alice Munro, Stanley Elkin,
Courtney Eldridge, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Hemingway, Charles Baxter, Christine Schutt, Francine Prose, Joan Didion, Colson Whitehead’s John Henry Days, which is
a crazy range, I know. I’m new to YA reading, through all of you, and
that’s been a blast, so many wonderful discoveries, including Before I
Die by Jenny Downham, and Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of
Katherines by John Green—so glad I met them. To Kill A Mockingbird is
to me the perfect, beautiful book.

Magazines are hard to see as pleasure because they’re so much my work,
and so many at once I have to read. Favorites: the New Yorker, Monocle,
Vogue, Elle, New Scientist, and of course, the late Sassy. Soon as I
have RED the Book properly in motion, I’m going to launch a teen
magazine. Same ethos as RED: I’m tired of seeing magazine editors in
their 20s, 30s, 40s, assigning stories to writers in their 20s, 30s,
40s, pretending to be teenagers. Would all be teen-created, in a way,
but matched with professional expertise—in the same way you RED writers
were edited by a professional editor, only extended to a director, a
fashion designer, etc. You see.

Thank you so much, Amy!

I’m just posting to let you know that I blogged about “Ten Books That Influenced Me” over at REDthebook.com.