Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Is Google Making us Stupid?: The Internet's effect on reading and writing

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In the Atlantic Monthly a few months, Nicholas Carr wrote a piece called, "Is Google Making us Stupid?" Perhaps different than the usual laments about the arguable erosion of reading and writing in our internet age, the article focused on how the way people read is shifting.

Here are two passages which I found very telling:

"My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."

Carr later quotes a pathologist who comments: “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

(I guess this blog might be getting too long for the pathologist, but I'll take the risk.)

What seems very revealing is that a skill many of us take for granted - the practice of which we derive a great deal of pleasure - is, for some of us, being unlearned. I guess reading is not like riding a bicycle or driving. You can lose it. Other commentators, including many educators such as myself, bemoan the general decline of literacy in higher education. Yet, I doubt we perceived ourselves, readers and writers, as vulnerable to losing the ability to read a long novel.

I do notice that the unread books of my bookshelf is getting longer and that I'm more inclined to read shorter novels, short story collection and anthologies (including the two I'm going to review later this month on this site). I always chalked it up to being short on time; but perhaps the internet and its signature practice, browsing, is changing the way my brain functions and my ability to read lengthy narratives?

I guess the issue then becomes, is "deep reading" - sustained, engaged, immersed -- a skill that is still valuable? I suppose the related question is, is it still pleasurable, that is something people still want to take the time and force their brain to do?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page