Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Shallows

Nicholas Carr, Knight Crusader for Online Undistractions, expanded the theme of his Is Google making Us Stupid article into a Pulitzer (non-fiction category) finalist book, The Shallows. After reading six chapters in the e-version, I bought the hard-bound print version of Shallows and completed reading it a while back. The switch to the 'conventional' version is for a reason that Shallows wouldn't anticipate, but was discussed upfront in the more pragmatic (perhaps, as it was written after Shallows,) The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs (shall write on this separately). I switched not because of any inherent e-version distraction but because of lack of copious links -- yes, that distracting and abhorrent method to wormhole from one region to another in e-text country -- to flip back and forth, guided by my memory, even as I am absorbed in the e-book. It is an inherent design problem with the e-book device, mentioned in The Pleasures..., yet to be satisfactorily addressed.

Short review (of Shallows): Our increased online activities cultivate an increased level of distraction in us than the internet-noisome-free English lit of yore. Is(n't) Google making us stupid? Perhaps yes, according to Shallows, after chapters of eloquent analysis with a detectable tinge of panic. Analysis that is mostly valid for a library or a dictionary or even a shopping mall. All are sources of such 'distractions' that rewire our brain to make us want something else on the rack than what we hold in our hand. Each of the chapters in The Shallows definitely provides in lucid text, well researched information on the evolution of reading in humans, culminating into an argument for 'unplugging' our reading. Ironically, by then, the argument for 'absorbed reading' is blunted by the prose. So, Is Google making us stupid? But do we need Google to make us so? For instance, if we find online activities distracting and hurting an endearing task we were sure we like to do now -- like writing a book named Shallows -- why not reduce online activities or pull out the internet cable? I am checking this one for the past few months with my online writing -- to minimize my "internet distraction" in order to write a book. It seems possible and not as painful as Nick Carr panics in his book. If we are incapable of discerning, deciding and acting on our priorities, do we need a Google to pronounce us stupid?

Long review: If you have read the above 'link-free' paragraph in one go on your screen, you are perhaps too much into IntraWeb you would already have stopped reading books. Or perhaps you are totally 'unplugged' to retain your ability to grasp my sententious paragraphs above, albeit online. In either case, you don't need The Shallows, leave alone my long review of it to help you decide on its reading. Evgeny Morosov in a best-of-2011-put-down suggested, "This is a book that should have stayed a tweet," about a Jeff Jarvis book. I won't dare to suggest such a verdict for The Shallows with its well researched content. But when viewed as a long argument for a 'patented, off-line un-distracted, concentrated reading', I certainly felt The Shallows could have remained Is Google Making Us Stupid.