“from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style”

There’s a great article in the Atlantic magazine this month by Nicholas Carr, which asks if the huge connective power of Google is ‘tinkering with our brains, rewiring our neural circuitry’. He explains:

As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive 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 my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

And in case you thought it was just us pyjama types who blog too late into the night, Norm picks up a literary review from the Sunday Times by Rod Liddle (Spectator columnist and former producer of the BBC’s Today programme) that fits the symptoms. Norm:

It’s one of those ‘literary classics that I hate’ features, and fair enough, they have their place. You don’t get on with Austen or Dostoyevsky? Be my guest. I don’t understand why, but it’s not obligatory to like anything, anything at all. Still, one can try to give some reasons. Liddle, for his part, disses Anthony Powell’s 12-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time on the basis of having read part of the first of them, A Question of Upbringing. What didn’t he like? Why didn’t he like it? Forget about it. All he’ll say is…

What ineffectual, pointless drivel.

That’s a discussion of books in the quality press for you.

Carr’s piece is an intelligent articulation of some something Andrew Keen (I went a few rounds with him once on Radio 4) seems (endlessly) to grasp for, but entirely fails to reach. I suspect Norm’s quotation of Powell’s that human beings are ‘driven at different speeds by the same Furies’ goes hand in hand with the re-shaping of our neural circuits.

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  • Belfast Gonzo

    Carr is exhibiting all the symptoms of Toffler’s Future Shock. Worth a read if you can relate to the above piece.

  • abucs

    “When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image”.

    Resistance is futile. :o)

    I think as well blogging can make people more auguementative, nastier and pontifical (?).

    But of course it can inform, help to re-assess and build friendships.

    I guess with lots of things, it depends how you use it.

    As the net is only a recent phenomena, perhaps it takes a couple of generations to pass on some of the ‘family wisdom’ like how to blog/use the internet to enhance rather than retard.

    Perhaps more of the newer generation know how to not waste time, not to get into never ending auguements, how to realise we are drawn to information that we agree with at the start, that different experiences give different points of view and how to tell the difference between fact and opinion.

    Everything we do – sport, blogging, reading, scuba diving effects our neural pathways. I guess we can choose how to effect them – in a good or bad way.

  • Rory

    I find that while my usage of the internet has not at all affected my appetite for reading novels, biography and history it has reduced my appetite in other areas. For example I rarely, if ever, buy The Spectator nowadays which I once took every week and I absolutely never buy the Sunday Times, but then when I occasionally flick through copies of these organs un my local library I can see that I am not missing a thing and am saving a few bawbies foreby.

    Abucs: I’d watch my “affects” and “effects” if I were you. Tricky little devils, I know, but best to get ’em right. But don’t blush – it could happen to the Bishop.

  • Dave

    All is not lost until you find yourself flicking through the pages of a book looking for the reply button, compelled by an urgent imperative to proffer your opinion to the author. Didn’t a prior generation complain that watching too much TV shortened its attention span? And yet TV continues to flourish and sales of books soar. Indeed, he has a book to sell. Neurolinguistics more properly deals with his concerns, more specifically psycholinguistics. And he shouldn’t put too much faith in the hype of Google businessmen whose ‘new-age’ model is just another version of the ‘old-age’ model of connecting sellers to buyers, with the middleman (Google) taking a cut of the profits from rambling eyeballs. The two founders of Google explained their purchase of a private Boeing 767 (fitted out as an environmentally-unfriendly party penthouse for the two playboys at a cost of $26 million) didn’t spoil their image as new-age hippy techno- revolutionaries (the bog-standard type that was used proffered a decade ago by bog-standard business whose understanding of new-age was that you didn’t wear a tie, introduced a playpen in the office along with flexitime but did everything else exactly the same) because – wait for it – the private Boeing would be used to fly billionaires over Africa, thereby encouraging them to donate to good causes. I kid you not… they actually were brazen enough to spin their Hefner lifestyle as something more worthwhile – and very new-age. Snake oil salesmen and guys making money from books based on the hype of snake oil salesmen.

  • This all seems horribly familiar, even though it has been dressed up with McLuhanry. The Headmaster of Eton opposed the arrival of the railway for fear of:

    interfering with the discipline of the school, the studies and amusements of the boys, affecting the healthiness of the place, from the increase of floods, and endangering even the lives of boys.

    Once possessed of that thought, I have been wrestling much of the day, trying to recall the name of the early Nineteenth Century physician who predicted that railways would devastate our species. Apparently, once the human body reached a speed of (something like) 25 mph, it would implode, heads would fall off, aargh! Equally, tunnels would be so terrifying, women and similar hysterics would be driven mad.

    Can anyone remind me of the name of the gentleman, and the details of his predictions?

  • abucs

    Thanks Rory. I’m on my way to find a dictionary now. :o)