Saturday, October 11, 2008

Lack of control = delusions?

Seems the more powerless we feel, the more likely we are to see patterns where none exist. This has obvious pertinence to many social issues: law, politics, medicine, religion, psychology.

One group that seems to be feeling especially powerless these days is the Literati. Apparently, the internet is beginning to change the way we think, & also the way we read. "It makes it harder even when we're offline to read books, as skimming takes over and displaces our modes of reading," says Nicholas Carr.

In a longer article, he compares the internet--& Google in particular--to time-&-motion studies that transformed productivity in the industrial revolution, becoming & remaining "the ethic of industrial manufacturing" at the cost of human job satisfaction. Carr provocatively suggests that Google's information management efforts are new oppressive time-&-motion algorithms for intellectual thought & knowledge work. He worries about the loss of deep thinking associated with the loss of deep reading in favor of the internet's hyperactive skimming.

But I wonder if all that deep reading wasn't at least partially because we were getting that information from a single author, & we needed to subconsciously assess the validity of the claims? We were also pretty much forced to wade through a lot of extraneous information to get to the meat of it, & then ultimately take or reject what we were given. Hopefully we could then tie what we kept to other reading, but no one can read everything--I think the last true "Renaissance Man" who actually held a good percentage of the knowledge of his time was probably Jefferson.

The internet helps resolve these issues, streamlining the process of information acquisition & interconnecting information to supporting & refuting arguments in a way no print source ever could. While much has been made of the dubious credibility of internet authors, is the situation really that different for printed authors, or are we assigning them more trust than perhaps we should due to the authority inherent in having access to esoteric means of distribution not available to everyone?

The internet--as all new technology tends to do--is certainly upsetting the applecart & redistributing power within society. Those who produce books seem to be one of the losers in this new arrangement.

So, is Nicholas Carr's fear grounded, or is he feeling powerless & seeing patterns where none exist?