I am an anachronism

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

12 Responses to “I am an anachronism”

  1. Josh Bancroft Says:

    Nicholas Carr is the Chicken Little of the web world. If he makes you feel like an anachronism, well, join the club. He’s a notorious cranky cynic. 😉

  2. EelKat Says:

    I never thought of anachromism in this manner before. Weird, because I’ve written so many posts on my own blog about anachronism (I am a anachronist, btw… my cloths come from the 1500’s, I don’t drive a car, I live on a farm, grew my own food… etc, etc,)

    It’s weird to think that the world has advanced so far that reading books make one considered an anachronist as well now! OMG!

  3. Nathan Zeldes Says:

    Congrats on getting the OED!

  4. Willie Says:

    EelKat, seriously?

    You’re an anachronistic blogger with 16th century fashion sensibilities? I can only imagine you now, macbook resting tenuously atop your codpiece.

    In other news…

    I too just received this (next?) month’s issue of the Atlantic and was fascinated/terrified by Carr’s piece. I, like the author have felt my mind changing over the last few years as my RSS feeds grow exponentially.

    As an experiment, I’m beginning The Brothers Karamazov just to see if I get through an extended work of honest literature now that my mind has become accustomed to the rapid-fire digestion of factoids and “Top-10 Most Awesome!” lists that seem to be taking up too much of my leisure reading these days.

    Is Google… was a great article. Mr. Carr may be the Chicken Little of the web world, but he’s a wonderful writer and has done us all a service by starting a dialogue on how modern technology is — yet again, reshaping our brains.

  5. Marianne Says:

    Josh, I understand your point. However, there are far too many fairly well-documented studies about the shaping of the neuron pathways in the brain to disregard what he has to say.

    I found myself having trouble reading at some point or other. I’m pleased to report that it has passed. I also would note that I am spending a great deal less time on line. Is there a connection? I don’t know.

  6. Marianne Says:

    EelKat, I too live on a “farm” (in quotes because the only thing we really “farm” is our garden and many acres of timber). We grow a lot of our own food.

    My clothes are 20th century, but it’s been months since I wore any footwear expcept sandals, garden/mud shoes, and fleece-lined slippers. Luckily my town friends are used to me by now.

    I’ve known for a long time that I’m an anachronism. It doesn’t alarm me, just makes me sad. The things that I think are anachronistic are things that I find very special.

  7. Marianne Says:

    Nathan, the OED is one of my prized possessions. A writer should not be without it. I hesitated a long time before popping the $1,000 or so that the purchase required, but on weeks like this one, when we’re getting an inch or so of rain a day and working outside is out of the question, there is a certain comfort in just picking up one of the volumes, leafing through and reading, and seeing where it takes your brain.

  8. Marianne Says:

    Willie, I thought the article was great, too. I understand Josh’s complaint, but I frankly think that modern media is changing the way our brains process information. I don’t think it’s for the good.

  9. Nathan Zeldes Says:

    Yep, that’s how I bought, long ago, the Britannica (1982 edition). I realized that my plan for someone to want to sell a near-new edition at half price will not happen, so I just took the plunge (it was around $1000 too, I think). Never regretted it…

  10. Marianne Says:

    Nathan, good on you. A person can never have too many good guitars, interesting cars, or good books.

    The first is of interest to both Ben and me. The second is Ben’s only. The third is mine, although I think my sneaky husband would agree but not admit it.

  11. Emerset Farquharson Says:

    Yes, I bask Britannica’s wisdom and revel in the throes of Shakespeare, yet I also enjoy open blade shaving and long for top hats. I brew my own beer and will one day drow my own barley, grapes, and olives. life must be taken like this.

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