“The question that remains to be answered… is whether that reading class will have the ‘power and prestige associated with an increasingly rare form of cultural capital’ or will be viewed as the eccentric practitioners of an ‘increasingly arcane hobby.” – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Books have survived numerous technological advances because none of these innovations could replace reading. Now, this favored pastime is being swiftly out-shone by the internet and e-books, and many people see this shift as a positive one. We are provided with more convenient, less expensive, environment-friendly options for reading – what could be better? But people forget that e-books are not just books by another name; “change in a medium’s form is also a change in its content” (Carr). People wish to take advantage of the opportunities that digital media provide and therefore want links and other extras in the content. While I can understand the draw, adding these features surely changes the overall experience of reading a book.
Carr also discusses a recent Japanese trend I had not heard of – cell phone novels. Authors compose on their mobile devices and upload strings of text messages online. The stories became wildly popular – according to Carr’s research, the 3 best-sellers in Japan in 2007 were written in this manner. A Japanese reporter states that readers are deserting physical books “by professional writers because their sentences are too difficult to understand, their expressions are intentionally too wordy, and the stories are not familiar to them.”
For one thing, Carr makes an excellent point later on the benefits of the published word: “The finality of the act of publishing has long instilled in the best and most conscientious writers and editors a desire, even anxiety, to perfect the works they produce – to write with an eye toward eternity.” Additionally, pardon the digression, but are we perpetuating our intellectual descent by coddling our minds instead of challenging ourselves? Does pure laziness drive our need to provide convenient, easy-to-consume material? Personally, I feel like some of the best things I’ve experienced in life required dedication and a little elbow grease.
“Their arguments are another important sign of the fundamental shift taking place in society’s attitude toward intellectual achievement… In arguing that books are archaic and dispensable, Federman and Shirky provide the intellectual cover that allows thoughtful people to slip comfortably into the permanent state of distractedness that defines the online life.” (Carr)