Zadie Smith is known for her self-disciplined approach to her writing. She's admitted using an internet-blocking app, ditching her smartphone for a flip phone and listening to brown noise to stay focused – and now she's revealed exactly why you won't find her on social media, either.
Speaking at an event with New Yorker journalist Jia Tolentino, the award-winning British novelist and critic said staying away from social media gives her "the right to be wrong" without fearing a public backlash, the Huffington Post reported. If she knew what people thought of her work, she confessed, she "wouldn't be able to write".
“Because I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Instagram, I’m not on the internet, I never hear people shouting at me,” Smith told the audience in New York. When discussing how discourse plays out online, she added: “I have seen on Twitter, I’ve seen it at a distance, people have a feeling at 9am quite strongly, and then by 11 have been shouted out of it and can have a completely opposite feeling four hours later. That part, I find really unfortunate.
“I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it,” she continued, saying also that while "it’s important to be appropriate in public life, in social life, in political life,” people's "instincts, feelings, inappropriate feelings" should be protected.
“I do want to kind of protect instincts, feelings, inappropriate feelings ― which I have all the time, all kinds of inappropriate feelings about all kinds of things,” she added. “I want to protect that part of myself, that existential part of myself.”
We should all "be able to retain the right to be wrong," she added, making a similar argument to the writer Jon Ronson in his much-celebrated book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which explores social media fury and its rapid escalation online.
"I’m wrong almost all the time. It’s OK to be wrong. It really is OK, you just have to sit in the feeling and deal with it,” Smith continued. “I never feel that certain in the first place, so this kind of succession of mistakes is just what I call my novels,” she added. Considering that the title of Smith's 2011 essay collection is Changing My Mind, her line of thinking probably shouldn't surprise us.
Not only that, but she's working on another novel, too – The Fraud – her first foray into historical fiction. With that much work on our plate, we probably wouldn't bother with Instagram either TBH.