Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Internet
Attention-Deficit Machine?

Maggie Jackson, in her October 2009 book Distracted, and Nicholas Carr (author of the 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"), in his forthcoming (June 7) book The Shallows, ask essentially the same question — that is, is the way the net structures the presentation of information giving us shorter attention spans and promoting shallower thinking?

The Jurassic Librarian wouldn't be Jurassic if he didn't call attention to these thought-provoking books. There may be something, after all, to the long-form reading we librarians have extolled and promoted these many years, if not centuries.

The library digerati will wave off consideration of the idea that the net is rotting our brains in just the same way that a well-known library technologist and blogger waved off Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur a few years back as beneath consideration or actual reading. In their world, expressing reservations about the net is, it seems, akin to a felony. In my world, they are the tragically hip.

Jackson delves into the history of attention science, and Carr cites contemporary brain-function studies in making his case. Jackson tackles the question more broadly, focusing on our gadget-driven "culture of interruption," whereas Carr specifically criticizes the net. Here are the citations: 

Distracted — The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, by Maggie Jackson, with a foreword by Bill McKibben. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2009, 327 pages.

The PW review, available on the book's Amazon page, is worth your time. And Professor Alan Lightman's blurb cuts right to the core of Jackson's thesis: "This is an important book . . . a harrowing documentation of our modern world's descent into fragmentation, self alienation, and emptiness brought on, to a large extent, by communication technologies that distract us, dislocate us, and destroy our inner lives."

Last year Wired Science ran an interview with Jackson, worth reading to test the waters before you take the plunge into the book. Here's an excerpt: "Right now, people hope they’ll be able to think or create or problem-solve in the midst of a noisy, cluttered environment. Quiet is a starting point."

Hmmm. Perhaps we librarians were on to something with the quiet thing, too. 

The Shallows — What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010, 276 pages.

From the Booklist review (available on the book's Amazon page): "Here [Carr] looks to neurological science to gauge the organic impact of computers, citing fascinating experiments that contrast the neural pathways built by reading books versus those forged by surfing the hypnotic Internet, where portals lead us on from one text, image, or video to another while we’re being bombarded by messages, alerts, and feeds. This glimmering realm of interruption and distraction impedes the sort of comprehension and retention 'deep reading' engenders, Carr explains."

1 comment:

  1. Sold to the lady in black...hope you're planning a review.

    Leigh Anne