The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

If you love to read, read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. His views on what the internet is doing to our brains have been disputed by others. If you love the internet, you won’t like it when he argues the internet encourages cursory reading. We flit from one web page to another, watch videos, check email and Facebook and Twitter. The internet is distracting, he claims, while you have to concentrate on a book to absorb what it says.

You may or may not agree with his views on the internet, but if you love books, isn’t this why you love them? They are simpler and sturdier than anything digital, says Carr:

You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.

Yes, you can pretty much do what you like with a book, but they were as revolutionary as the PC when they first came on the market. Carr recalls:

In 1483, a printing shop in Florence, run by nuns… charged three florins for printing 1,025 copies of a new translation of Plato’s Dialogues. A scribe would have charged about one florin for copying the work, but he would have produced only a single copy. The steep reduction in the cost of printing was amplified by the growing use of paper, an invention imported from China, in place of more costly parchment. As book prices fell, demand surged, spurring, in turn, a rapid expansion in supply. New editions flooded the markets in Europe. According to one estimate, the number of books in the fifty years following  Gutenberg’s invention equated the number of books  produced by European scribes during the previous thousand years.

Books enriched language. Carr writes:

After Gutenberg’s invention, the bounds of language expanded rapidly as writers, competing for the eyes and ears of ever more sophisticated and demanding readers, strived to express their ideas and emotions with superior clarity, elegance and originality. The vocabulary of the English language, once limited to just a few thousand words, expanded to upwards of a million words as books proliferated. Many of the new words encapsulated abstract concepts that simply hadn’t existed before. Writers experimented with syntax and diction, opening new pathways of thought and imagination.

Carr obviously likes books and quotes a poem which any book lover can identify with. Here it is.

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm

By Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The house was part of the meaning of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

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