This weekend I started reading Nicholas Carr’s new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I had read an article about this book recently in Publisher’s Weekly, and it really piqued my interest–as a publishing professional, as a mother to two school-age children, and as an individual who grew up in a non-Internet world, but who spends time daily in the ether. I am only a few chapters in, but I can say this is a very worthwhile book and it is validating so many of my concerns that have been brewing in my own mind over the years.
I read Moby Dick twice when I was an English major at U.C. Berkeley, and I read without complaint. I loved being immersed in the pages, the linear journey of it all….the imagery that came about because of Melville’s long, detailed, descriptions of ships, characters, the whaling industry. The build-up of the drama, through painstaking selection of words….going on and on, bringing me the reader along to the various crescendoes of the story. Could I read that book now? I’m not so sure. My mind has becomed trained to absorb short bursts of information…I struggle now with long pieces, I scan articles, I look for keywords, even when reviewing my twitter feed, I scan…140 characters is too long.
I am not unique. We’re all experiencing the same things it turns out. I think this may be a negative but I don’t know. Perhaps like everything, it is just a mixed bag of positive and negative.
I’m learning alot about media, about communication, about brain research, about psychology, philosophy. I can already tell this book is a masterpiece. There is one line that just absolutely sticks with me from the first page of the book where Nicholas Carr introduces us to the book Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan. Published in 1964, evidentaly it really shook up the world as he discussed how “electric media” was impacting the Twentieth Century–electric media being telephone, radio, movies, television. Carr said this book “was at heart a prophecy, and what it prophesied was the dissolution of the linear mind.”
Over a year ago, I realized that I had stopped reading literature altogether. Work, parenting, mid-life crisis, everything, had gotten in the way of one thing that for most of my life had given me such joy and satisfaction. And because of that, I was losing my spelling skills, writing skills, memory. So I recommitted myself to literature and over the past few months in particular, I feel like my mind is getting stronger–maybe not stronger, but definitely there is a change going on. Well, now I’m sure of it. I am rewiring the synapses in my brain, training them. The neurotransmitters are flowing across my synapses and triggering the neurons in my brain, firing repeatedly as I read linear books. This seems very positive to me.
I really look forward to slowly going through Carr’s book and absorbing as much as I can. More to come, I’m sure.