Based on the review, I might have to pick up this book, but I fear it will only confirm my prejudices so it might not be worth it. Nicholas Carr thinks the Internet is ruining our minds, or at least so the review title implies.
The argument seems to be that certain Internet activities render our minds incapable of sustained concentration, deep reflection, and sophisticated understanding and interpretation of ideas.
I thought about this and was reminded of some of the clowns who write about libraries. The ones who claim libraries not on Twitter or whatever are invisible. Or the ones who pass on shallow tips on social fads and believe they’re uniquely deep thinkers. Or the ones who really do believe that microblogging is the future of communication just because they have nothing to say that can’t be said in ten words or less. And all the librarian sheep who pay attention to them.
Then came this bit:
He says we are becoming more like librarians — able to find information quickly and discern the best nuggets — than scholars who digest and interpret information.
That lack of focus hinders our long-term memory, leading many of us to feel distracted, he said.
“We never engage the deeper, interpretive functions of our brains,” he said.
Finally, it all makes sense! This is why so many librarians either are or are conned by such shallow popinjays! It’s in the nature of the profession.
Librarians, after all, aren’t expected to know very much or think very deeply. Reference librarians used to at least have to know where reference books were located and the sort of information in them, but Google has relieved them of that need.
Catalogers used to read through books at least a little bit to classify them, but now they just download some MARC copy provided by the last seven catalogers left on earth.
And forget about the children’s librarians. Sure, they read a lot…of children’s books. But basing your lifetime reading habits on what you liked in the 7th grade isn’t exactly a recipe for intellectual development.
And then there are the librarians who don’t read at all, or at best read only the tech gadget news. I’m not sure if you read the gadget news at all, but it is almost uniformly upbeat, uncritical, and shallow, with supposedly grown men drooling over shiny gadgets like a 12-year-old girl over Justin Bieber.
You can tell the librarians whose main reading material is gadget news, because they write and speak the same way. “This is cool!” “This is now!” “You’ve got to try this! Because it’s cool and now!”
Traditional librarians are like cats, which explains the affinity. They sit quietly in a corner dreaming about chocolate and yarn. The twopointopians are more like puppy dogs. They run around enthusiastically and bark a lot, and are easily distracted when shiny gadgets and squirrels pass by them.
In the end, I’m not sure I agree with Carr. He seems to imagine some golden age when people were more like scholars than like librarians, but as far as I can tell there was never a golden age like that. The people most fascinated by shiny trifles on the Internet are the ones who in previous eras would have had to satisfy their cravings for novelty with pet rocks and soap operas.
I’m not sure if that’s the case with librarians. The techie librarians of previous eras had their work cut out for them. They really had to know a lot about technology in a hard-core way. Back in the day, librarians had to develop the technology they needed.
Now they just use the technology created by other people and feel like they’re accomplishing something. It’s like someone who confuses reading a book with writing one. “I just finished a book” can have several meanings.
I suspect the same librarians who are least capable of deep thinking or reflection will be the ones most offended by Carr’s analogy. However, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m happy to stand around with the thoughtful librarians in the corner watching the puppies bark and chase squirrels.