I’m launching a podcast called The Active Voice. It’s about how great writers reckon with the only thing in the last 17,000 years to challenge the technological supremacy of writing: the internet. We’re getting it all started today with George Saunders, one of America’s greatest living writers (and author of the wonderful Substack Story Club), and you can listen to it right here, on read.substack.com.
In the coming weeks, Jessica Reed Kraus, Samantha Irby, Glenn Loury, Cheryl Strayed, and Chris Hedges will feature on the podcast, with many more to follow, including writers who aren’t on Substack. Through these conversations, we’ll explore how the world’s most important stories are told in a time when social media has come to dominate our minds and attention.
It might sound trite to focus on how the internet is affecting writing – after all, we’ve been living with it for more than three decades now. But really, we’re all still adjusting to life online. While Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok have now become constants in our lives, it can be easy to take the cultural change they are bringing about for granted. It is a new thing to have a global commotion roiling at every moment, with cultures, ideologies, and interests colliding, driving us from the online “information utopia” of the 1990s and early 2000s to the intellectual Thunderdome of the 2020s. Hundreds of years from now, people will look back on this era with intense curiosity, and perhaps even pity, noting that the advent of the internet brought on cultural chaos to a degree that exceeded even the impact of the Gutenberg press. Smartphones and social media are conditioning our minds and influencing the global consciousness in ways that we are only beginning to understand.
So, how are today’s great writers navigating this time? How do they protect their minds? How do they create space for themselves to produce great works of literature and journalism? How have they made a living amid the economic carnage of the last 20 years? How do they deal with polarization, culture wars, online cruelty, and the memeification of everything? How are readers subsequently affected? And what is the attendant effect on society?
That’s what this podcast is about. Each week, I’ll be prying into the minds of some of the world’s most fascinating thinkers to learn from them, be inspired by them, and find ways to survive, or even thrive, in tumultuous times. And of course, we’ll always leave room for fart jokes.
I called this podcast The Active Voice because I enjoy the double entendre, and because it is about the writer in the arena: the writer who, despite the pressures of the social media moment, has the courage to say what they believe needs to be said; the writer who finds a way to speak truth to power; the writer who seeks understanding over takedowns. This podcast is for those who know that what you read matters and that great writing is valuable.
I can’t wait to share all these conversations with you.
The Active Voice is produced and shared using Substack for podcasts. Find out how Substack makes a richer podcasting experience, supporting multimedia and subscriptions, and fostering a direct relationship with your listeners here.
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