Sunshine Recorder

Link: Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought

The European: Is that because of the technology’s omnipresence or rather the way we engage with it? You have described how the immersion of browsing the web can’t be compared to that of reading a book.
Carr: If you watch a person using the net, you see a kind of immersion: Often they are very oblivious to what is going on around them. But it is a very different kind of attentiveness than reading a book. In the case of a book, the technology of the printed page focuses our attention and encourages a linear type of thinking. In contrast, the internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking.

The European: And yet one can fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia; spending hours going from one article to the other, clicking each link that seems interesting.
Carr: It is important to realize that it is no longer just hyperlinks: You have to think of all aspects of using the internet. There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focussed thinking – which I don’t think is normal for human beings – whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted.

The European: Recently, there’s been a rise in the popularity of software tools which simplify the online experience – such as Instapaper or fullscreen apps – all of which leverage the effect you described by emulating the printed page or the typewriter. They block out distractions and rather let the user stare at the plain text or the blinking cursor.
Carr: I am encouraged by services such as Instapaper, Readability or Freedom – applications that are designed to make us more attentive when using the internet. It is a good sign because it shows that some people are concerned about this and sense that they are no longer in control of their attention. Of course there’s an irony in looking for solutions in the same technology that keeps us distracted. The questions is: How broadly are these applications being used? I don’t yet see them moving into the mainstream of peoples’ online experience. There’s a tension between tools that encourage attentive thought and the reading of longer articles, and the cultural trend that everything becomes a constant stream of little bits of information through which we make sense of the world. So far, the stream metaphor is winning, but I hope that the tools for attentiveness become more broadly used. So far, we don’t really know how many people used them and in which way they do.

(Source: sunrec)

Link: Nicholas Carr on Impact of the Information Age

FiveBooks interviews asks writers, academics, and experts to list recommended books on a given topic.

Is the Internet dividing our attention? Are we so buried in technology that we ignore one another? The technology writer discusses the history and implications of the information age, from the mechanical clock to the iPhone.

Why do you think “consumed” is an ugly term?

I think it’s an ugly term when applied to information. When you talk about consuming information you are talking about information as a commodity, rather than information as the substance of our thoughts and our communications with other people. To talk about consuming it, I think you lose a deeper sense of information as a carrier of meaning and emotion – the matter of intimate intellectual and social exchange between human beings. It becomes more of a product, a good, a commodity.

You discuss other ramifications – ill effects, even – of the information age and the net specifically in your book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

In The Shallows I argue that the Internet fundamentally encourages very rapid gathering of small bits of information – the skimming and scanning of information to quickly get the basic gist of it. What it discourages are therefore the ways of thinking that require greater attentiveness and concentration, everything from contemplation to reflection to deep reading.

The Internet is a hypertext system, which means that it puts lots of links in a text. These links are valuable to us because they allow us to go very quickly between one bit of information and another. But there are studies that compare what happens when a person reads a printed page of text versus when you put links into that text. Even though we may not be conscious of it, a link represents a little distraction, a little division of attention. You can see in the evidence that reading comprehension goes down with hypertext versus plaintext.

The Internet also is the most powerful multimedia technology ever invented. We get information not in one form but in many forms at once – text, sound, animation, images, moving pictures – whereas in the past you had to use different tools to get information in different forms. And it’s an interactive technology, incredibly good at sending messages and alerts. So as we read or take in information in other forms, we also tend to be bombarded by messages that are of interest to us – emails, texts, tweets, Facebook updates and so forth.

So you believe the “link economy” and suchlike leads to attention deficit?

I think that all of those qualities of the net encourage the division of attention, and an almost compulsive gathering of information very quickly. We’ve always skimmed and scanned in some areas of our intellectual lives, and that’s an important capability. But as we begin to carry the Internet with us every day – with the proliferation of first laptops and now smartphones and tablets – I think it is influencing the very way in which we think.

We are losing the balance of our thinking in this constant bombardment of information – those times when we can screen out distractions and spend time concentrating on one thing, or engaging in open-ended contemplation, reflection or introspection. Those qualities of thought, up until recently, were considered the highest and most characteristically human forms of thought. But we seem to be quite happy to throw them overboard in return for the many benefits of our online lives.

What are you basing these cognitive points on?

There is evidence from studies that indicates that we behave in a very mentally scattered way when we’re online. If you look at studies about the way people browse web pages, for instance, most people look at a page for 10 seconds or less, then click off to the next page. There are eye-tracking tests of how people read online, and it tends to be very cursory reading. Studies of email use show that we glance at our inbox something like 30 or 40 times an hour. Or you can see it in the explosion of text messages. The average American teenager today sends or receives well over 3,000 texts a month, which is about one text every six minutes during waking hours. And then there’s the streams of information on Facebook and Twitter.

There are cognitive costs to having this constant stream of interruptions and distractions, and a constant division of attention in perpetual multitasking. When you don’t pay attention you lose the cognitive benefits that come with that, namely the [increased] ability to form long-term memories or to weave information into high-level conceptual thoughts – rather than to simply Google everything and get it in discrete chunks. There is a loss here that until recently we’ve ignored because we have been so enamoured of the benefits of these technologies. The type of thinking that they encourage is, I think, a scattered, superficial and shallow way of thinking.

Link: Nicholas Carr on Information and Contemplative Thought

The European: Is that because of the technology’s omnipresence or rather the way we engage with it? You have described how the immersion of browsing the web can’t be compared to that of reading a book.
Carr: If you watch a person using the net, you see a kind of immersion: Often they are very oblivious to what is going on around them. But it is a very different kind of attentiveness than reading a book. In the case of a book, the technology of the printed page focuses our attention and encourages a linear type of thinking. In contrast, the internet seizes our attention only to scatter it. We are immersed because there’s a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us and we seem to be very much seduced by that kind of constantly changing patterns of visual and auditorial stimuli. When we become immersed in our gadgets, we are immersed in a series of distractions rather than a sustained, focused type of thinking.

The European: And yet one can fall down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia; spending hours going from one article to the other, clicking each link that seems interesting.
Carr: It is important to realize that it is no longer just hyperlinks: You have to think of all aspects of using the internet. There are messages coming at us through email, instant messenger, SMS, tweets etc. We are distracted by everything on the page, the various windows, the many applications running. You have to see the entire picture of how we are being stimulated. If you compare that to the placidity of a printed page, it doesn’t take long to notice that the experience of taking information from a printed page is not only different but almost the opposite from taking in information from a network-connected screen. With a page, you are shielded from distraction. We underestimate how the page encourages focussed thinking – which I don’t think is normal for human beings – whereas the screen indulges our desire to be constantly distracted.

The European: Recently, there’s been a rise in the popularity of software tools which simplify the online experience – such as Instapaper or fullscreen apps – all of which leverage the effect you described by emulating the printed page or the typewriter. They block out distractions and rather let the user stare at the plain text or the blinking cursor.
Carr: I am encouraged by services such as Instapaper, Readability or Freedom – applications that are designed to make us more attentive when using the internet. It is a good sign because it shows that some people are concerned about this and sense that they are no longer in control of their attention. Of course there’s an irony in looking for solutions in the same technology that keeps us distracted. The questions is: How broadly are these applications being used? I don’t yet see them moving into the mainstream of peoples’ online experience. There’s a tension between tools that encourage attentive thought and the reading of longer articles, and the cultural trend that everything becomes a constant stream of little bits of information through which we make sense of the world. So far, the stream metaphor is winning, but I hope that the tools for attentiveness become more broadly used. So far, we don’t really know how many people used them and in which way they do.

 

Link: Nicholas Carr on E-Books

Digital text is ushering in an era of perpetual revision and updating, for better and for worse.

I recently got a glimpse into the future of books. A few months ago, I dug out a handful of old essays I’d written about innovation, combined them into a single document, and uploaded the file to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service. Two days later, my little e-book was on sale at Amazon’s site. The whole process couldn’t have been simpler. 

Then I got the urge to tweak a couple of sentences in one of the essays. I made the edits on my computer and sent the revised file back to Amazon. The company quickly swapped out the old version for the new one. I felt a little guilty about changing a book after it had been published, knowing that different readers would see different versions of what appeared to be the same edition. But I also knew that the readers would be oblivious to the alterations. 

An e-book, I realized, is far different from an old-fashioned printed one. The words in the latter stay put. In the former, the words can keep changing, at the whim of the author or anyone else with access to the source file. The endless malleability of digital writing promises to overturn a whole lot of our assumptions about publishing.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type a half-millennium ago, he also gave us immovable text. Before Gutenberg, books were handwritten by scribes, and no two copies were exactly the same. Scribes weren’t machines; they made mistakes. With the arrival of the letterpress, thousands of identical copies could enter the marketplace simultaneously. The publication of a book, once a nebulous process, became an event. 

A new set of literary workers coalesced in publishing houses, collaborating with writers to perfect texts before they went on press. The verb “to finalize” became common in literary circles, expressing the permanence of printed words. Different editions still had textual variations, introduced either intentionally as revisions or inadvertently through sloppy editing or typesetting, but books still came to be viewed, by writer and reader alike, as immutable objects. They were written for posterity. 

Beyond giving writers a spur to eloquence, what the historian Elizabeth Eisenstein calls “typographical fixity” served as a cultural preservative. It helped to protect original documents from corruption, providing a more solid foundation for the writing of history. It established a reliable record of knowledge, aiding the spread of science. It accelerated the standardization of everything from language to law. The preservative qualities of printed books, Ms. Eisenstein argues, may be the most important legacy of Gutenberg’s invention.