Anxious Mo-Fo

An anxious m*********** from Seattle

Responses to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid?

with 8 comments

Edge links to a number of responses to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid?, and I’ll quote from the one I agree with the least, from Clay Shirky:

But here’s the thing: it’s not just Carr’s friend, and it’s not just because of the web—no one reads War and Peace. It’s too long, and not so interesting.

This observation is no less sacrilegious for being true. The reading public has increasingly decided that Tolstoy’s sacred work isn’t actually worth the time it takes to read it, but that process started long before the internet became mainstream. Much of the current concern about the internet, in fact, is a misdirected complaint about television, which displaced books as the essential medium by the 1970s.

As a consolation prize, though, litterateurs were allowed to retain their cultural status. Even as television came to dominate culture, we continued to reassure one another that War and Peace or À La Recherche du Temps Perdu were Very Important in some vague way.

I’ll confess to not having read War and Peace, although it is sitting on my bookshelf in all its many-paged glory, staring at me accusingly. But I have read Swann’s Way, and whether Shirky thinks Proust is important or not, the only criticism he brings to bear – against Tolstoy, and against Proust by implication – is that reading long novels takes too much time. For many of us, the work is worth the time it takes, which is why we read novels like Infinite Jest and Ulysses. What Shirky is really saying is that it is not valuable to him, or to his “reading public,” which, presumably, includes the sort of person who reads The Da Vinci Code and Danielle Steele novels, and not the sort of person who cares deeply about literature, and who, still, finds the time to read long difficult fiction.

That Shirky and his reading public don’t care about Proust is not a point against Proust as much as it is a point against Shirky and his reading public. Proust is deeply pleasurable to read: the well-known madeleine passage bears repeated reading, as does the opening passage of Swann’s Way in which the narrator provides a lyrical and convincing description of memory in a half-awake state.

He goes on to write

Making the net’s intellectual ethic as valuable as it can be will mean, among other things, securing for ourselves an ability to concentrate amidst our garden of ethereal delights. No matter how we solve that problem, though, it won’t bring back the cathedral-like model. On the network we have, the bazaar often works better than the cathedral, from the individual mind to the overall culture. Getting networked society right will mean producing the work whose themes best resonate on the net, just as getting the printing press right meant perfecting printed forms.

Wouldn’t it be great if the same collective process that brought forth Wikipedia brought forth fiction, too? Wouldn’t it? No, it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be great at all.

You can also find Carr’s response to Shirky, Larry Sanger’s response to Shirky, Matthew Battles’ response to Carr, and others, which I haven’t read, by George Dyson and others.

Last, you can also see my teensy response, back when Carr’s article first appeared.

Update: I’d recommend Larry Sanger’s response to Carr’s article, which is reasonable, short, and to the point:

But ultimately we have no one to blame but ourselves for this. If some of us no longer seem to be able to read a book all the way through, it isn’t because of Google or the vast quantity of information on the Internet.

You’re damn right, Sanger.

Written by JPP

July 20, 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in Books, Google

8 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The existing, well-worn path of literature may well be the highest of reading pleasures, but to use it as an excuse to ignore whatever new forms of literature may be on the horizon is extremely short-sighted and ultimately destructive.

    Just my two cents.

    My full response to the debate is here:

    http://theconnective.org/2008/09/08/fearing-digital-literacy/

    Eyal Sivan

    September 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm

  2. Hmm. I’m not clear on what you mean by “ignor[ing] whatever new forms of literature may be on the horizon”—are you referring to my glib comment about creating fiction using a Wiki, or something else?

    anxiousmofo

    September 8, 2008 at 7:08 pm

  3. Yeah, pretty much.

    I think fiction, or let’s say storytelling, is one area where the Internet has a lot of growing to do. In these early days, all the content is still very slippery, but I think eventually we’ll come up with better ways. I mean, machinma? Did you see that coming??

    But no, not a wiki, that would be bad.

    Eyal Sivan

    September 8, 2008 at 9:03 pm

  4. Yeah, pretty much.

    I think fiction, or let’s say storytelling, is one area where the Internet has a lot of growing to do. In these early days, all the content is still very slippery, but I think eventually we’ll come up with better ways. I mean, machinma? Did you see that coming??

    But no, not a wiki, that would be bad.

    Eyal Sivan

    September 8, 2008 at 9:04 pm

  5. sorry for the double submission, messed up the link in the 1st

    Eyal Sivan

    September 8, 2008 at 9:05 pm

  6. I had to follow your link and do a Google search to find out what machinima is. Could turn out to be as much of a waste of my time as LOLcats were, once upon a time.

    anxiousmofo

    September 10, 2008 at 8:08 pm

  7. Thanks for finally writing about >Responses to Nicholas Carrs Is Google Making Us Stupid?
    | Anxious Mo-Fo <Loved it!

    search engines

    June 5, 2013 at 7:09 am

  8. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering
    which blog platform are you using for this website?

    I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    www.nujij.nl

    August 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: