W.W. Norton, c2010.
The fact that I “read” this book by listening to the audio version on my iPhone, which played while doing other things - driving, walking, performing mundane tasks etc. is perhaps telling about my ability to concentrate and my brain’s need for stimulation. I definitely feel that my brain has changed through usage of the Internet - which I use every day at work and at home (and sometimes at points in between).
I appreciate that this book doesn’t seek to indict the Internet or demand that we “unplug.” It instead outlines how our brains are changing, whether that be for good or ill. It also describes a number of other paradigm shifts that have occurred throughout human history, where our thought processes and way of thinking about things has changed. When I ran this book at our November 2011 Nonfiction Book Club meeting, the members were ambivalent about such changes - some welcomed it, and some took a measure of caution from it, but no one decreed that the Internet must be shut off.
For myself, I notice that I have a hard time reading long-form magazine articles or essays, where my eyes keep bouncing to the larger-font captions and call-out boxes. I skim through articles and concentrate on topics of particular interest to me. I enjoy reading web articles and blogs (if they aren’t too long), and all the clicking and linking that the web allows. Despite this, I also enjoy sitting down with a long book for hours at a time. I am just as happy with an eBook read on my iPhone or other eReading device as I am with a print book. I don’t know why this doesn’t parlay to magazine articles though.
I am particularly interested in any comments that people may have as to the severity of this “crisis.” The discussion questions below are designed to help the reader clarify their opinions about the points raised by this book.
- Considering how much (or how little) you use the internet, have you noticed any changes in your ability to concentrate?
- Are we controlled by our tools?
- How concerned are you by the amount of different things that you can now do online, or with technology in general?
- How has your relationship to books changed in your lifetime?
- “I go online for a lot of things, but I also enjoy sitting in a comfy chair with a good book.” Is this statement true for you? If books go more and more online, would you miss the print codex?
- How does human memory differ from computer memory? How much of a memory’s context do you recall? (When you hear a favourite piece of music, do you remember what you were doing the last time you listened to it?)
- The human brain can’t ever be full. Do we replace old memories with new ones, or is everything integrated somehow?
- Do you feel that we are in the process of losing some fundamental quality of humanness?
- The author points to studies showing that helpful computer programs interfere with problem solving. Do you think that eventually our brains will adapt to this new mode of thinking? Will our brain adapt in a good way?
- Do we entrust tasks to a computer that actually demand wisdom?