The irony in Google’s effort to bring greater efficiency to reading is that it undermines the very different kind of efficiency that the technology of the book brought to reading—and to our minds in the first place. By freeing us from the struggle of decoding text, the form that writing came to take on a page of parchment or paper enabled us to become deep readers, to turn our attention, and our brain power, to the interpretation of meaning. With writing on the screen, we’re still able to decode text quickly—we read, if anything faster than ever—but we’re no longer guided toward a deep, personally constructed understanding of the text’s connotations. Instead, we’re hurried off toward another bit of related information, and then another, and another. The strip-mining of “relevant content” replaces the slow excavation of meaning.
–Nicholas Carr The Shallows
English teachers explore the ramifications of the new media. It is an exciting time to be a lifelong learner. As I think about Carr’s premise, I reflect on how digital text, and strip-mining impacts my learning.
I like to strip mine. I blast texts with Twitter. I excavate forums. I compulsively watch YouTube videos.
The internet cannot replace the tangible text.
I attempted to teach a text in my IB English class using a Kindle reader. And I strip-mined it unintentionally. I need to chip away at the chapters with a pen. I want to dust the words with a highlighter across the lines (thanks Billy Collins who taught my students to “waterski across the surface of the poem”) of the page. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I see a text splattered with sticky notes and writing all over the text and highlights. It is an academic trophy of sorts.
But, the same argument could be made by Carr’s predecessors.
When Gutenberg invented the printing press, he stripped the art form of the written manuscript. When the Phoenicians and Greeks derived phonetic alphabets, they sought to silence the stories; the sense of community that occurs when people share and relate in real time.
Not really. With progress there are trade offs. It is useful to be mindful of them.