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The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

I am currently reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

In Chapter 7 Carr quotes a 5-year University College London study: "It almost seems that they [users of online research sites] go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."

Like, ya think? By the end of my master's degree studies (the term "studies" being applied rather loosely), I like to think I had become reasonably adept at selecting appropriate key words to find supporting material -- as in, lines and sentences -- for the topic at hand. Far from reading entire texts, I was employing a "speed-writing" approach to crafting essays, and a "speed-reading" approach to quickly culling pithy evidence from cite-worthy sites to support whatever point of view I thought would most please the course instructors. Typing the citations in APA format often required more time than finding the necessary information.

Most of my successful peers applied variations of the same approach. One "older gentleman" in the program, steeped in the ways of tradition, insisted on thoroughly reading everything he encountered. He quickly became overwhelmed, fell behind, and eventually dropped out of the program, which was sad; he had the most natural classroom presence and easy way with children of any of us in our group. A couple of times I tried to convince him of the value in the "skimming" approach, but he would not be swayed.

I read "at length" and "in depth" when I am interested, or when I "want to." For "chore" reading, it's all about finding the most efficient approach to using the most efficient sources.

By the way, Carr's book, so far at least, is far better in every way than a similar work which I read recently (and which Carr cites in the current chapter), Distracted by Maggie Jackson.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
No, no. Say it ain't so. Debunk the premise of the book, please. We're still just as prone to deep thinking as, let me dig up a video in another tab where this guy explains how the internet actually helps us oh, look, I want to watch that Shakira video, but it's stuttering on my computer because it's, oh, that reminds me, I don't think it meets the recommended specs for Star Craft 2, let me just open another tab, there's Star Craft 2's specs, but how do I look up the current specs for this computer again, let me open another tab and Google for "Vista specs", whoah, cnet, that reminds me, I need to buy some external drives for the system I currently have. One more tab, I'll close it just as soon as I accomplish this one immediate task. Dang it, flash blocker is interfering with cnet, let me open one more tab and see if there's a better choice in flash blockers, and I won't have to deal with that distraction any more, OK, let's dive down into the extensions here, ooh, that one looks useful, that'll make me even more productive, must mention this at Plurk while I'm thinking of it. Open just one more tab to Plurk just so I can post. I won't read any updated plurks...
Aug. 16th, 2010 10:07 pm (UTC)
You've provided an excellent synopsis of the theme of the book, actually. ;-)

The Shallows provides an even-handed look at the issue; the investigation was inspired by the author's observations about changes in his own reading and thinking habits, which he summarized in a manner not unlike your paragraph. In a fascinating manner, Carr compares the recent changes in reading and thinking habits to changes which occurred in the past, in particular to the periods following the origination of written language, the invention of portable writing media (paper and parchment), the development of the printing press, and the introduction of mechanical or electrical media like the phonograph, radio, and television.

The issue I mentioned was actually addressed, I discovered after posting my comment, a few paragraphs following where I'd left off.

One angle which was only cursorily touched upon in the closing paragraphs of the book, and which I was hoping would be explored in depth, was whether or not younger generations, those "under 30" who have known digital mass media their entire lives, ever developed "deep reading" or "deep thinking" skills to begin with.

Further -- and a concern I face as an educator -- will younger generations who lack a sense of "linearity," not to mention a lack of both knowledge of and interest in vocabulary, general historical facts, and arts, culture, and literature be able to effectively apply the rapid, efficient "sift and scan" approach to digital media that you or I or Mr. Carr use? Without a grounding in "basic stuff you gotta know," how will younger people sort useful from not useful? How will they make "judgment calls" about the information bits they pick and choose from the raging torrent of information?

My concern is that they won't. Information will be spoon fed to them, for the benefit of the information providers and the capitalistic enterprises behind them. I'm seeing signs of this already in looking at current news. It's getting harder to find written articles; it seems as though an increasing percentage of news links lead to video clips featuring analysts or "reporters" who try to tell me what to think, supporting their statements with carefully edited audio and video info-bits. The ultimate, and not too distant, I suspect, end result of the digitization and fragmentation of information is an increasing control on the part of the power structure which "feeds us" information.

Edited at 2010-08-17 02:26 am (UTC)
Aug. 17th, 2010 01:33 pm (UTC)
Good to hear that The Shallows is even-handed.

I really want to believe that the next generation will have some unforeseen ability to accommodate to their digital environment, but I'm afraid of the same things you are.

Would you be interested in reading Daemon and Freedom (TM)? The former is little more than an action flick, but the latter touches on some of these issues.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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