It is ironic that I, a software engineer, sitting at my computer am typing out this post which I shall confess at the outset, is about the ways the internet and computers are changing our 3 R’s (I could write it as 3 Rs but a reader might skim over it as 3 rupees, which I have no intention discussing as the value of 3 rupees is all but nearly lost).
Let me be honest, I read one paragraph and then sent it to a reader friend of mine and then read a lot more (measured by the scroll bar having crossed half the screen height) before deciding to write about this. Come on, I suffer from this problem too!!
I must agree with what Carr says in there. We really have changed a lot since the advent of “surfing”. I remember surfing in Unix mode when I once had a student’s account. I had to use the scroll keys and hops between links and hit enter for launching the webpage! Gosh! Imagine having to navigate through Blogger in such a mode. If I remember right, “D” was used to download (images, pages, whatever). I think the first thing I downloaded was a Mona Lisa painting. All surfing was done without any colour and shape. In spite of that, I had had a bookmark file of over a few hundred entries. Links which I had planned on re-visiting some time in the future. But the future had IE, Opera, Safari and Firefox on the crystal ball (which now resembled a TFT screen gone out of focus!). Thankfully they had a way of importing bookmarks. Now my bookmarks number nearly 4000+!!
I think the point I agree most with, in Carr’s article, is about the staccato quality of reading. I read a paragraph, assume that I understand the rest of it (but my mind working like a self-learning spider (in web terminology), weaves logical and intelligent assumptions based on extrapolations and interpolations to create a semblance of having read and assimilated the entire article) and proceed to the next article with the intent of reading it “completely”. I recognise my mind working like some summarising-engine: pick the keywords, string them together, pick some names that are mentioned, interpolate, check the nature of the understanding curve, extrapolate, summarise. I had done this about one such book from which I had quoted in an earlier post about the “Lost Art of Reading
“. Whether I come across as well-read or learned is such a pointless thing when I know that I just dropped the penny in the summarising-machine slot.
“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”
Nothing is closer to the truth than that. I loved the Hero pens that I had back in school and held earnest conversations with my black Camlin fountain pen with a striped translucent belly. Today, it has been over a few years since I wrote with a fountain pen. I used to have a nib-maintenance kit with me which consisted of a Eau-de-Cologne bottle on whose smooth glass surface I polished my nibs. Nowadays, I confess to being magically taken over by the keyboard. Often (though not always, as my writing includes stressful and tortuous products too) I would start writing and it would just happen: a continuous movement of fingertips on a bunch of yielding black squares in a flow which I would give anything to make permanent. It seems Nietzsche’s writing was also altered ever since he took to the typewriter!! I think I should return to pen and paper (purely a romantic coming home).
But I think this approach to information versus delight and knowledge also slides into our approach to many things in life. We no longer are willing to give time to things that need time. Expertise, is one example. People want to become a genius – NOW. They can’t wait for 20 years nor go through the rigour of practicing their skill with fervid indulgence. People want to be a philosopher – NOW. They read a bit here, and a bit there, take on a slow and measured baritone and speak as if they have seen it all. People want to be respected – NOW. They have no time to build their reputation through careful and continuous practice of virtue. Gifted genius acknowledges a very short latency between want and realisation. But Time’s tell cannot be totally undone, though time’s tell should not be the single governing factor of our lives and the pleasure we should all derive from life. It is simply vital to provide for the intangibilities (not as a mere loophole in defining a holistic system, but because we are a product of things tangible and intangible) which cannot be quantified, measured, weighed and set on an assembly line. To quote the article (which I am scanning for apposite lines and points that I can use):
In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation.
And this is where I am reminded of the Glass Bead Game, where the practitioners made contemplation a vital element of the game, because it was transforming into something that people ended up memorising (like chess moves). No, I haven’t read the book but have read up to the point (and perhaps a little beyond) where this observation is made. Think about it. 1 week of pure contemplation: no computer, no network, no gadgetry and what will happen!?
I could summarise, but there is no fun in that. Go figure! 🙂