The lost art of reading (or drowning in too much information)…

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Here’s a great review of a fascinating book (H/T reader Rory) on how the Internet is destroying our capacity for intelligent, focused and critical thought. It opens thus:

…here is the news that Ulin brings in this slim, meandering book: that reading is “an act of contemplation”; that such an act becomes more difficult in “our overnetworked society, where every buzz and rumor is instantly blogged and tweeted, and it is not contemplation we desire but an odd sort of distraction”; that the analphabetic anger of anonymous Internet comment threads is emblematic of a “degraded cultural conversation” in which “the ability to carry out a logical argument” has been lost; that technology brings a boon but also a burden: “We are never disconnected, never out of touch”; and lastly, coming full circle, that in this “landscape of distraction,” reading becomes not just an act of contemplation but one of “resistance.”

Recognise the condition? Well the reviewer for the NYT Christopher Beha does. In fact he’s deeply sympathetic. But, and this is something anyone who has spent some time in and around the poetry publishing arena for at least a generation, here’s his irreverent kicker:

The publishing industry, like every industry, needs product to push, notwithstanding the fact that a truly necessary book is a rare thing. Here is a challenging and confounding truth you won’t find anywhere in Ulin’s pages: There are too many books, and this is part of the problem. David Ulin’s intentions are beyond reproach, but his book is another distraction.

The irony is that these interactive tools are aimed at getting us past the information overload and closer to what we imagine is the pay dirt…

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

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  • http://alaninbelfast.blogspot.com Alan in Belfast

    > … his is something anyone who has spent some time in and around the poetry publishing arena …

    When will the poetry industry realise that haikus are fast to read and what modern people need … so hard to speed read epic poems that go on for pages and pages …

    But more seriously, Slugger is full of this. (I’m guilty too.) Take the people who actually contacted the UUP having “read” my post and thought that their conference had been turned into a lefty-liberal unconference.

    Wish I’d time to read more.

  • JAH

    Can I also recommend The Shallows by Nicholas Carr which covers the same ground but argues that the net is actually damaging us by making us skim read without much depth.

    I nearly gave up my smartphone for a period but then, like Carr himself, found the lure of the next email just to hard to resist.

  • Alias

    These folks obviously don’t have any employment that requires them to read. Try getting a job where EU regulations apply and they’ll soon get out of the habit of not reading…

    Anyway, books are been published is greater quantities every year than the year before so the evidence doesn’t support the claim.

  • Rory Carr

    I thought that Mick’s headline to this piece, “The lost art of reading (or drowning in too much information)…” neatly encapsulates both the contention of Ulin, the author of the book, that the relentless domination of technology in modern communication has endangered the art of serious reading and that of the reviewer, Beha, who counters that there are simply too many books and that such, for the dedicated reader, has always been the case; we can’t, after all, read everything.

    I have not found Ulin’s fears to be real although they can, like other fears, take on the appearance of reality. If anything I have found that the hurly-burly of life in a large metropolis, not least the daily grind of the commute to work, has actually encouraged my reading habits to expand and I would observe that I was not alone among fellow-travellers finding succour in a piece of serious reading on the morning and evening tube, bus or train journeys.

    As to Nicholas Carr’s contention that the internet encourages us to “skim read without much depth”, I would take issue. I certainly skim-read a lot. If there is a depth of quality to be found in what I skim then it had best reveal itself if it wishes to invite me into the deep. That is the author’s problem and, if the reader misses out on whatever great truth he has to offer as a consequence, then that is the author’s reponsibility (or lack thereof).

    The internet, I find, continually invites me to find and obtain books of which I might otherwise have not have heard and in doing so expands my field of interest and deepens my knowledge. Even a little sidebar of titillation like the Slugger Bookshop commercial opposite had me searching to see if I could find The Kincora Scandal for less than the “best” price of £21 (I did. On eBay, for a tenner, from a nice man in Co. Down) and Amazon clearly knows that I am a sucker for those newly published items within my declared interst range.

    Beha is correct I think – there are just too many books and we can’t read them all. But we can die trying and, boy is it fun !

  • Brian

    Sorry i tried reading this but couldnt pay attention for more than a minute and checked Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Gmail, Work e-mail, IPhone, ESPN.