Information Overload

Regardless of the subject being discussed, there are many noticeable differences between writing platforms. Many of these differences center around the idea that the Net/modern technology can change not only our thoughts but the way we think, process information, and the speed at which we receive this material. Carr gives a metaphor using water, a bath tub, a thimble, and faucets to symbolize how we tend to retain the information we are fed. His belief is that filling a bathtub with a thimble is equivalent to transferring our working memory into our long-term memory. He follows this example with, “when we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading” (124). He follows by saying that when on the internet, “with the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast” (125). Although this is true, a book provides only what is permanently stained with ink while the Net contains a plethora of options, does that mean that we are actually trying to process every single bit of information at once?

It is possible to read an article or even multiple articles online at a pace that we choose. It is even possible to revisit online articles, posts, etc. multiple times just as we would with a tangible book. For example, when I do research on a topic I still narrow my search. Regardless of if I receive my data from a book or the internet I am still specifying what I am looking for and specifying even further by choosing which of those links I read and/or use. I don’t try to click on every single link that might have to do with what I’m looking for, I only choose the ones that seem the most relevant. In that sense, I have multiple faucets running but I still choose which faucets to fill my thimble and later bathtub. When I look up a specific topic and I find the same fact in a book and on a webpage, it’s the fact that matters not the platform in which I got it. I am not saying that there is no difference between the different mediums of written works, I am simply saying that it is possible to limit what faucets are running when searching on the Net. I don’t feel as if my ability to learn about a subject is suffering because it came from online, just coming from a different platform than a written text.

book-vs-ebook
technofaq.org

This image I found interesting because it portrays the opposite of what Carr is saying, that ebooks and Net learning are better pathways than resources made with ink and paper. But if the information is the same, could it just be a personal preference on which style of learning suits the individual best?

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Carr Response

In his book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr attempts to describe the cumulative impact of the changes in technology on the human brain. He gives a brief history of writing, there were carvings in stone, papyrus, and animal skins. Scrolls, and later books, were steps in making books easier and cheaper to travel with and make.  However, the writing was actually difficult to comprehend, being based on an oral tradition. The words were written without spaces and often out of order. Authors often had other people act as their scribes, writing things as they said them. It was easier to decipher these texts when reading them aloud. When the written word was modified, allowing for spaces between words and sentence structure, it became easier both for writers to write and readers to read. The act of writing and reading became more personal. Authors took on the task of writing themselves and felt more comfortable, as a result their works were better developed and more progressive than before. Readers were able to focus less on comprehending the text and more on experiencing it, building their own personal relationship with the text. Studies have shown that the activity in readers’ minds imitates what they read, so they are really experiencing what they read.

Carr has found that, with the introduction of the internet and the ability to just jump around from thing to thing, people have lost the ability to really immerse themselves in the text like they used to. They are no longer able to concentrate as long, they have been trained to skim texts. Even e-books are unable to recreate the experience. There are plans to take the e-book even further, adding links for readers to follow to articles and other things related to the text. Vooks are e-books with videos in them. These books have already begun being published and there are some that describe them as the next step for the novel. The ability to see a character, to access information that you aren’t sure about immediately. Carr thinks that this will only take away the personal aspect to both the writing and the reading process, where the writer in almost entirely influenced by outside interests and readers only read so they can say that they were involved.

I agree with Carr. I think that putting all of the extra things in books is only going to be a distraction for the reader. It will stunt both reader creativity and ability to focus. It may even stunt the writer, who will be forced to adapt to a new media. I honestly think that it would be too much, that no one would ever really finish a story or be able to build their own opinions.

The Timelessness of Books

What resonated most with me in the first six chapters of The Shallows was the way Carr described the abilities of reading and writing books utilizing physical means versus utilizing technology. There were multiple passages in the text which coherently worked together to establish this point, beginning with the passage I marked on page 65,

“Even the earliest silent readers recognized the striking change in their consciousness that took place as they immersed themselves in the pages of a book. The medieval bishop Isaac of Syria described how, whenever he read to himself, “as in a dream, I enter a state when my sense and thoughts are concentrated. Then, when with prolonging of this silence the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

The capacity of books to invoke certain emotions and spiritualities within ourselves is unachievable by technology, and was something I personally connected with most in my real life. I also understand this concept well because it connects to the way our thought processes change when using technology versus physical papers and writing utensils. The way the physicality of a book shapes our experience and bond, so does technology, but in a different way. Reading a physical novel or text slows down your senses and thoughts, while technology seems to speed them up. I’ve realized the ways technology has changed my thought process, especially after reading Carr’s research. He claims,

“…media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away at my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.”

I definitely can recognize this change in my mind as well, as it becomes more difficult for me now to be calm, take time and focus on what I’m reading. I’m always searching for something in the text, something that could be a potential question later on. Rarely anymore do I read slowly, with intent, or when I do I must make an effort to.

In my personal life, I have a Pinterest board where I pin a lot of book quotes, pictures and ideas. I find this helps me keep in touch with my book nerd side, which is interesting because I’m constantly using my phone or laptop to go on Pinterest and find these things. I found this pin would be interesting to contribute to the conversation, because it sort of comments on the abilities of books versus the internet. As vast of a place that the internet is, it’s impossible to escape from reality. In fact, these days, the internet is our face of reality, constantly spitting new news and information at us. On the other hand, the media of a book has potential to release you away from reality and bring you into another world separate from your own. I’ve always been a book lover, and I do believe reading and writing heightens consciousness. I related to Carr’s theories regarding this and found it interesting and reassuring that a book is truly timeless.