1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

...a pair of boots has followed me from site to site for weeks

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by kennyc, Feb 24, 2019.

  1. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    Has the Internet Destroyed Reading?

    Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction

    “I read books to read myself,” Sven Birkerts wrote in The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. Birkerts’s book, which turns twenty-five this year, is composed of fifteen essays on reading, the self, the convergence of the two, and the ways both are threatened by the encroachment of modern technology. As the culture around him underwent the sea change of the internet’s arrival, Birkerts feared that qualities long safeguarded and elevated by print were in danger of erosion: among them privacy, the valuation of individual consciousness, and an awareness of history—not merely the facts of it, but a sense of its continuity, of our place among the centuries and cosmos. “Literature holds meaning not as a content that can be abstracted and summarized, but as experience,” he wrote. “It is a participatory arena. Through the process of reading we slip out of our customary time orientation, marked by distractedness and surficiality, into the realm of duration.”

    Writing in 1994, Birkerts worried that distractedness and surficiality would win out. The “duration state” we enter through a turned page would be lost in a world of increasing speed and relentless connectivity, and with it our ability to make meaning out of narratives, both fictional and lived. The diminishment of literature—of sustained reading, of writing as the product of a single focused mind—would diminish the self in turn, rendering us less and less able to grasp both the breadth of our world and the depth of our own consciousness. For Birkerts, as for many a reader, the thought of such a loss devastates. So while he could imagine this bleak near-future, he (mostly) resisted the masochistic urge to envision it too concretely, focusing instead on the present, in which—for a little while longer, at least—he reads, and he writes. His collection, despite its title, resembles less an elegy for literature than an attempt to stave off its death: by writing eloquently about his own reading life and electronic resistance, Birkerts reminds us that such a life is worthwhile, desirable, and, most importantly, still possible. In the face of what we stand to lose, he privileges what we might yet gain.


    A quarter of a century later, did he—did we—manage to salvage the wreck? Or have Birkerts’s worst fears come to pass?....

    Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    Having been binge reading The Expanse on my phone and being utterly entranced, I say pish posh. The author has romanticized a reading past that never really existed, and has demonized a reading present that he profoundly misunderstands. Humans have always tried to distract themselves. We got so utterly bored sitting in our huts, we told stories to pass the time (nobody was reading; and only a minority read books up until very recently, leading me to think he's fretting about the habits of the privileged class, not of ordinary folk). More than that, we multi-tasked, working at mending and spinning while we told or listened to those stories. Talk about distractions!

    We humans adapt. It's our specialty. That inevitably means letting go of some things in order to embrace others. Indeed, the conversation we're having, and the means by which we have it, is one of the most wonderful, valuable things we've done in the past twenty-five years. I say good on us.
     
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  3. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    Interesting Skip! I've not read 'The Expanse' but on recommendation I watched the first episode on video at Amazon and was totally turned off -- I came away asking "Where's the AI? Where's the Computers and Robots?"
     
  4. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    I Agree completely about entertainment... we need fiction/stories/literature as part of our 'being.' Also to transfer knowledge, information, memes.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    The show does a pretty good job, but the books are better. But, really, my point was that story is story. If it's really good, you fall into it.

    I'll go further. I have arthritis in both hands. Holding a physical book tires me after a while. The pain distracts me. I read on my phone because it's easy to hold, I can set the font size to a comfortable level for my eyes, and because it's always with me. It is, for me, a better choice than a physical book.

    Romanticization irks me. I never liked the 19thc Romantics and I don't much like their inheritors. The article talks as if reading of a physical book has some mystical power inherent. That's not where the power lies; it lies in the story itself. But of course romanticism only works if you keep to a narrow scope of vision. What about a poem? That's a short work, yet some poems can be profound. Okay then, what about an anecdote? An aphorism? A short story? How long does a work have to be to let us commune with ourselves?

    And what the devil is the difference between reading and "real reading"? And is that only a binary condition? My experience of reading is that the word covers a wide range of experience.

    The author of the article and the people she cites speak longingly of the reading experience of their youth. I'll argue that has more to do with youth than with reading. The bands of my youth were better, too, back when music could change the world. :)

    The author quote Birkerts "...the common practice of most readers before the nineteenth century, when books, which were scarce and expensive, were often read aloud and many times over." Oh good grief. Books were often read aloud. Had I written that in grad school, my professor would have come down with both feet on the use of the passive voice. Who, Mr Knox, is doing the reading here? Er, I would stammer, that is, I guess it would just have been the tiny elite who were reading books. Most people, if they read at all, read newspapers and broadsheets and posters. The early modern equivalent of a Twitter feed. Books were indeed scarce and expensive. I've no wish to reclaim that. Oh, and they could still be read superficially. Even aloud. Not every book was consumed like a monk reading St John.

    In short, I ain't worried. I'm fascinated.
     
  6. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    I agree. It's about story! Form is almost irrelevant..
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,726
    3,262
    313
    It's my understanding that the books industry is actually doing really well right now. Even sales of print copies have stabilized and are even back on the rise. People are reading, so the complaints about the new age of digital destroying our literature strike me as fearful and outdated.
     
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  8. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    2,937
    1,453
    163
    This part of the article resonates with me:

    In October I ordered fabric online for one of my wife's sewing projects. Even today - just 5 minutes ago - I am seeing fabric ads. When I go to the Mythic Scribes homepage right now, the fabric ads are there.
     
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    >It's about story! Form is almost irrelevant..
    What're they on about, then? They conjure up bogeymen then ask us to be afraid along with them? Are they lamenting anything more profound than lost youth? Which, I admit, is profound enough in itself.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    @BlackDragon, is that a bad thing? It's a new thing, and like many new things it can be a little unnerving or, I dare to say it, distracting. But I'm not sure that profile tracking is what the article was complaining about.
     
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    >the complaints about the new age of digital destroying our literature strike me as fearful and outdated.

    Agreed, but I believe the article is arguing that the nature of reading itself has changed, or is changing, and for the worse. There may be more readers, but they are more superficial and fragmented and somehow less human than readers in the Good Old Days (insert the century of your choice).

    BTW, that line in the article about reading aloud still gets under my skin. There's a whole scholarship regarding reading aloud versus reading silently, from the days of St Augustine onward.
     
  12. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    Yep. Exactly....
     
  13. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    4,261
    1,362
    163
    No I don't think the internet has destroyed reading.
    Reading has changed over the last twenty five years as it has over any twenty five year period before that. We aren't far from the time when cheap paperbacks were seen as weakening the quality of reading because only the educated could truly understand what was written. If any one could read a book and not just those that could afford the hardback... Well then... Even your servants might read Dickens, Lawrence, or Marx!
    As for on-line adverts. I hate that they get it so wrong. Why show me adverts for a Lawnmower after I search for and bought a Lawnmower? Show me adverts for garden improvement tools, Lawnmower lubrication oil [if such a thing exists] and first aid kits...
    It is when I get adverts for Paris after emailing a friend in Paris...
     
  14. kennyc

    kennyc Inkling

    525
    176
    43
    They already do, they will get better as our AI overlords get smarter...
     
  15. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,726
    3,262
    313
    Or when their tracking data learns how to track when you actually bought the lawnmower.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    6,306
    4,146
    313
    I'll take targeted ads over the jingle-spouting spam that was the media advertising I grew up with. That was more like brainwashing. I can still sing advertiser songs from fifty years ago, can still see Ready Kilowatt stand before me, beaming.
     
  17. Book sales, paper book sales, have risen every year since 2013. Things aren’t all bad.
     
  18. Am I the only one whose ads seem to be nonsense? Not that my online shopping or browsing habits make any sense at all, or that *i* make any sense at all...

    But people always talk about how Google and Amazon can read their minds practically, and I cannot relate. O_O
     
Loading...

Share This Page