This is my summary of chapter one of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr.
Chapter Four: The Deepening Page
For my summary of chapter three, please click here.
In this chapter Nicholas Carr covers the evolution of writing technologies and their impacts on the human brain and the development of knowledge.
When people first began to write, they simply scratched their marks on anything that was convenient, such as smooth faced rocks, or strips of bark.
The Sumerians were the first to use a specialised medium for writing: specially prepared blocks of clay, and then the Egyptians began manufacturing papyrus scrolls around 2500 BC.
The problem with scrolls is that they were expensive, but the development of the wax tablet meant writing technologies spread to more people: these were much cheaper than scrolls as they could be wiped clean and thus reused. In order to store lengthier texts people would lash together several wax tablets.
The wax tablet also served as the model for the first book. This was created by an anonymous Roman artisan who first lashed together several sheets of parchment between a pair of rigid rectangles of leather to create it.
However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the printing press in the mid 15th century that the book found its perfect medium. The printing press led to a ‘virtuous cycle’ in which the increased availability of books further stimulated demand for books.
The 16th century saw the printing press go global and the first great flowering of printed literature: from Shakespeare to Milton and from Bacon to Descartes. Of course, there was also more ‘tawdry’ literature available, but this just help spread literacy to the masses.
Carr argues that the arrival of movable-type printing was a central event in the history of Western culture and the development of the Western mind.
For the medieval type of brain according got J.Z. Young, making true statements depended on fitting sensory experience with the symbols of religion. The letterpress changed that: As books became common, men could look more directly at each other’s observations, with a great increase in the accuracy and content of the information.
The social and cultural consequences were as widespread as they were profound….. reading and writing became two main attributes of citizenship in a new ‘republic of letters’.
Carr now argues that there is something of an intimate relationship between a writer and a book, and a reader and a book: the book encourages a focussed and sustained intellectual effort in a way that simply was not possible before the invention of the book.
To read a book, at least one of the great literary works, one must follow an argument, a sustained narrative… this encourages intellectual development.
Simply put, our great literary tradition of the last 400 years simply would not have existed without the technology of the book and the influence this had on the ‘neural pathways’ of so many of our great writers.
However, with the infiltration of media and especially 2.0 technologies into the mainstream, the pathways of our brain are once again changing.
For my summary of chapter five please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!
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