Out of The Shallows…

Nick Carr’s new book (The Shallows) which I have, but haven’t yet read has kicked up a bit of a stir. I’m always skeptical of determinist arguments – the internet makes us stupid is not what he’s saying, but it’s the meme that will be repeated. But there’s been some good reaction from Stephen Pinker in The NY Times and Clay Shirky elsewhere. Here’s Steven Johnson’s take:

But Mr. Carr’s argument is more ambitious…: the “linear, literary mind” that has been at “the center of art, science and society” threatens to become “yesterday’s mind,” with dire consequences for our culture. Here, too, I think the concerns are overstated, though for slightly different reasons.

Presumably, the first casualties of “shallow” thinking should have appeared on the front lines of the technology world, where the participants have spent the most time in the hyperconnected space of the screen. And yet the sophistication and nuance of media commentary has grown dramatically over the last 15 years.

What gets me is the technological confusion that others will extrapolate from an interesting discussion about the complex beast that is the internet. What will happen is a reduction of the argument down to print (book) vs screen (internet). I maintain that the medium is not the message; that it’s entirely possible to do on a screen what you do on ink and paper. Just look at what Joe Wilcox (who’s normally wrong about things!!) has to say:

I realized that iPad offers fresh functionality: Immersion. I find there are fewer reading distractions, and content is better presented than on a laptop and browser. I’m more focused and retain more of what I read. For reasons not easily explained, I find myself more thoroughly reading iBooks than defaulting to the skimming I sometimes do with physical books. Part of this immersive experience is the technology, but also how iPad is used. Apple’s tablet is a sit down and focus device, as much because of size and shape as screen and user interface. The totality — physical design and software benefits — is immersion.

To suggest that the internet is distracting goes without saying; to say that therefore all screens are distracting is something else again. Just as War & Peace and The National Enquirer are products of similar print production and distribution mechanisms, so it can be with screens…


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