59 bar falls 29.79 6mph NNE dew-point 53 Beltane, cloudy and cool
First Quarter of the Flower Moon
Ooops. Finished the Atlantic article and turns out the author Nicholas Carr’s point is more subtle than I reported yesterday. He does make those comments about shorter thinking and reading attention spans and I still stand by my comments on them, but his essential question with Google and the Net goes far beyond those observations.
He equates Google with Taylorism–Frederick Taylor of time management studies and manufacturing efficiency circa 1910’s. He quotes Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt, co-founders of Google, as being interested primarily in measurement of all they do (the Taylor component) and development of A.I., artificial intelligence. In essence Carr sees the Google approach to knowledge as quantifiable information in possible conflict with the ambiguous, nuanced and intuitive method more typical of the human mind engaged in either deep-reading or deep-thinking.
His concern harkens back to Marshall McLuhan and his notion of the Medium is the Message. Each major shift in the storage and retrieval of human information has affected human thought. His first example is Plato’s concern as writing began to replace oral transmission of learning. Plato imagined humans would not remember as well. And we don’t. A similar concern surfaced when Gutenberg made the printed book widely available. Here’s an excerpt:
“Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.”
He goes on to describe what he fears might be lost:
“The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.
If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture…”
I agree with Carr’s concern not so much because I see the internet as a bane on deep thinking, rather because I find our culture as a whole leans away from contemplation, meditation, deep reading and deep thinking. The roots are not so much in the technology of information deliver and storage as in a culture besotted with the practical, the utilitarian and the quotidian. We innovate, yes, but our innovation tends toward the entrepeneurial and the practical, at their most intellectual toward the scientific, not toward the philosophical and religious and literary. More people know the names Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, for example, than know Herman Melville and Willa Cather, or even Joseph Smith and William James. Who was the famous rocket scientist? Werner Von Braun. Who was the famous physicist? Albert Einstein. Who was the great American transcendentalist? Ralph Waldo Emerson. Who was Thomas Cole? Charles Ives?
Cultures differ in what they emphasize, just like people. We have great benefits for the world, yes. But deep thinking and deep reading have not traditionally been counted among them.
I may have overstated my case here, but you get the drift. Don’t blame the technology, understand the culture.