Archive for June 20th, 2011

King Ludd himself: Nicholas Carr on little bits of information flying across a screen

Monday, June 20th, 2011
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Tiny bits of data zinging into your brain

I posted a couple weeks ago on Nicholas Carr‘s newest takedown of technology.  That was a few days after I wrote about Bill Keller‘s apparently unpopular column, “The Twitter Trap.”

James Temple’s dot.commentary over at the San Francisco Chronicle acknowledged the buzz: “The general take was that he was an old-media Luddite threatened by things he couldn’t understand. If Keller is a Luddite within these circles, Nicholas Carr is King Ludd himself, ready to smash the machines to preserve a world long ago lost.”

Well that’s not quite true.  Carr, when Temple tracked him down last week for a Q&A: said: “There are all sorts of benefits, intellectual or cognitive, that we get from the Internet. The most obvious is the fact that it’s much easier to find information than it was in the past, and that’s obviously a huge benefit in many instances. It’s also much easier to communicate very quickly with lots of people, and that can help a lot, particularly when you’re trying to solve particular problems.”

However, he added, “I think you really have no choice but to try to restrict the amount of time and the amount of mental energy that goes into watching information fly by on the screen.”

That’s kind of tame.  Then he was asked about the buzz he and Keller stirred:

Is contemplative thought expendable?

Q: There seems to be a reflexive reaction to your ideas in the tech world. When Bill Keller raised questions about Twitter in his recent column, some said dismissively that he was channeling Nicholas Carr, like it was an obvious insult. What do you think drives that kind of response?

A: One is that a lot of people, particularly people in the tech world, are deeply invested in technology. I mean economically invested, although they are also ideologically invested. Central to their thinking is that progress in computers equates to progress of humanity and society.

If you’re working in this area, that assumption makes you feel good about yourself and so you want to defend it when you hear someone making basic criticisms. Your natural reaction is to paint a caricature of nostalgia or Ludditism. That seems to be a completely normal reaction.

And second, I think there are simply people who don’t share my belief that more contemplative thought is important. They think getting as much information and processing it as quickly as possible, is really the height of their intellectual life. If you don’t care about quiet or more contemplative thought, then obviously you’re not going to even understand where I’m coming from.

Now that‘s scary.  Read the whole thing here.  Meanwhile, cheer up!  According to ReadWriteWeb, websites – including this one – will disappear within the next few years.  Boy, will that be a whole bunch of time down the toilet.

Meanwhile, Sara Barbour over at the Los Angeles Times thinks Kindle is way overrated – here.