The Shallows by Nicholas Carr:  How the internet is changing the way think. A summary of chapter 6

This is my summary of chapter six  of The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, by Nicholas Carr. For my summary of the previous chapter, chapter five, please click here.

Book sales (of paper books) have remained fairly robust with the mass adoption of the internet.

There are many advantages of books compare to mobile devices on which you might read the same text. (As if it wasn’t obvious by now, Nicholas Carr loves paper books!)

  • They are more robust – you can spill coffee on them without ‘killing’ them!
  • You don’t have to worry about batter life
  • You strain your eyes less when reading them.
  • They are less distracting than reading on a screen.

Carr now muses that new ebooks such as the Kindle may well take over from books. (Remember he wrote this book in 2010 when ebooks were still relatively new.) This seems likely given the cheaper production costs, and improving manufacture which improves the reading experience with ereaders.

However, E readers are likely to change our experience of reading in the same way as the Internet. They have many of the same features embedded into them, such as hyperlinks and browsers.

Carr now cites various examples of people’s experiences of reading using E readers, all of whom say they were more distracted (by looking things up on Google, for example), than when reading a regular book.

How E readers might change our writing

Carr now suggests several ways in which E readers might change the way we write….

  • They do according to Nicholas Carr in 'The Shallows'
    Do E readers change the way we read and write?

    In Japan, ‘cell phone novels’ have become increasingly popular – these are novels written via text message, with shorter sentences and less plot structure than regular novels.

  • Vooks are ebooks with videos embedded
  • Publishing is seen as an ongoing process rather than a finished product.
  • The impact of social media means that reading a book becomes less private.

Carr makes a lot of this final point, as he did in his previous chapter. He reiterates the idea that when silent reading became the norm in the Enlightenment, this transformed reading into an intimate, private relationship between the reader and the author. This then encouraged people to ‘write privately’ – to think and write deeply as if inviting someone to personally engage with them – this was the style of writing adopted by the great philosophers and novelists such as Marx and Tolstoy – writing was still done to be published, but the process of writing was a very deeply personal one…. And that style of writing in turn encouraged generations of people to engage at a deeply involved level with the novels and thus the authors, creating the good old virtuous circle. (It follows that in Carr’s analysis, deep reading and writing were probably central to the development of early sociology.)

A groups of Northwestern University professors wrote in a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Sociology:

‘The recent changes in our reading habits suggest that the era of mass book reading was an anomaly in our intellectual history. We are now seeing such reading return its former social class base: a self-perpetuating minority that we shale call the reading stage…. 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.’

Today there are those who suggest that the decline of the book is nothing to lament….

Mark Federman, an education researcher argues that the time has come for teachers to abandon the linear, hierarchical world of the book and enter the Web’s world of ubiquitous connectivity and to develop the skill of discovering emergent meaning among contexts that are continually in flux.

However, in reality, to enter the world of the net may just be to enter a context of constant distraction…

For my summary of chapter seven please click here. To purchase the book (it’s a cracking read!) please click below!

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