Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Review - The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

I remember Nicholas Carr because of an article he wrote back in 2008, Is Google Making Us Stupid?. According to his notes on The Shallows, he actually expanded on the ideas of the article to write the book.

I picked up this book for a variety of reasons. As a librarian who often does information literacy/fluency instruction, I want to learn as much as I can about how students think and process information. We make decisions all the time about materials - do we stick with print or order eBooks? Is an online periodical sufficient? Can we discard our print reference collection? The answers are not always easy. I can't shake Nicholson Baker and his harsh judgment on libraries, ever since reading Double Fold, and that was also in the back of my mind as I read. The Shallows is a clear picture of where information has come from compared to how we tend to access it and use it in the present day.

The other perspective I'm bringing to this is that of a reader, a great lover of the printed page, of holding a book in my hands and shutting out the world. Carr discusses changing attitudes toward reading at great length. People abandoning the idea of reading because the internet makes it easier, because they no longer "have to," or because they are finding entertainment elsewhere.

"We are now seeing such reading return to its former social base: a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class.' The question that remains to be answered, they went on, is whether that reading class will have the 'power and prestige associated with an increasingly rare form of cultural capital' or will be viewed as the eccentric practitioners of 'an increasingly arcane hobby.'" (108)

The idea of deep reading gets discussed, as well as what it can do for a learner to shut off everything and focus on reading an entire book, rather than living solely in the shallow world of the internet. I also enjoyed the bits about the history of the printed page, and all the prophets of doom throughout the centuries who have wrongly predicted the end of the book.

I think this is a valuable read for anyone interested in how people learn, how technology changes our brains, and the value of reading.

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