Sunday, September 12, 2010

We have met the future and it's lost the ability to read and concentrate

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT's famous Media Lab, quoted in the New York Times a few weeks back:

I love the iPad,” admits Mr. Negroponte, “but my ability to read any long-form narrative has more or less disappeared, as I am constantly tempted to check e-mail, look up words or click through.”

A few weeks before this, Negroponte was quoted as saying the physical book will be dead withing 5 years, when all reading will be digital.

Or is it deep reading itself--and the concentration that makes it possible--that's going to be dead, as it obviously is already for Mr Negroponte?

But what the heck. The ability to concentrate is SO overrated. With constant access to the net, you can learn to be a doctor, an engineer, a scientist, a computer programmer even, all without ever having to seriously concentrate.

"I never really learned how to read texts," says a character in Gary Shteyngart's prophetic new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, "just to scan them for data."

Of course we can't expect Nicholas Negroponte to have read this. It's 277 pages into a long-form narrative..


Ellen Ciompi said...

If this is true, parents and teachers are failing miserably. Next thing they'll say is there's no need to teach people to write since all signatures, permissions, etc. will be digitally transmitted. As Col. Potter in M*A*S*H used to say, "Horse hockey!"

Bob Stocking said...

Nicholas Carr takes up this discussion of the loss of "deep reading" capacity in "The Shallows," a book I found compelling. Some of his research interpretations have come under attack, but there are broader conclusions that ring true for me.

May I suggest using Readability for long online articles. It's configured in the latest version of Safari, and there's a Firefox extension too. It converts the article into a link-, pop-up-, and ad-free version, and while it's still on a screen the article becomes easier to read with focus.