Learned about this from Jon Stewart, (not that one, but:) the charming host of the BBC Radio Show and podcast "Science in Action", an altogether excel...moreLearned about this from Jon Stewart, (not that one, but:) the charming host of the BBC Radio Show and podcast "Science in Action", an altogether excellent show.(less)
This book is mentioned in the thoughtful-if-long New York Times Magazine article "Texts Without Context", which explores how technology is altering th...moreThis book is mentioned in the thoughtful-if-long New York Times Magazine article "Texts Without Context", which explores how technology is altering the way we absorb ideas, especially the written word, and how that change in subjectivity is setting us up for subtle but radical shifts in everything from political discourse to the rights of authors.
With respect to this book itself, the article includes the following paragraph:
As Mr. Manjoo observes in “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society”, the way in which “information now moves through society — on currents of loosely linked online groups and niche media outlets, pushed along by experts and journalists of dubious character and bolstered by documents that are no longer considered proof of reality” — has fostered deception and propaganda and also created what he calls a “Rashomon world” where “the very idea of objective reality is under attack.” Politicians and voters on the right and left not only hold different opinions from one another, but often can’t even agree over a shared set of facts, as clashes over climate change, health care and the Iraq war attest.
The phrase Rashomon World so well captures the denialism we see today that I'm inclined to give this book a chance despite its mediocre Goodreads rating.
A brief sampling of other Goodread member reviews [and, while I'm near the topic, why on earth would anyone ever mark a review of a non-fiction book as "contains spoilers"? That's just silly:] I was able to glean hints that Manjoo might have pulled in some cognitive theory, and that would be a good reason to hit it, too.
I've long held the availability heuristic as my favorite cognitive bias, but what I've recently read in Strangers to Ourselves has broadened my idea of what that might encompass. If Manjoo is dealing at all with how changes in information subjectivity interacts with our unconscious mental processes, I want to know it. (less)
(Even more late breaking updates, below. Still haven't read it yet, though.)
This book is mentioned in the thoughtful-if-long New York Times Magazine a...more(Even more late breaking updates, below. Still haven't read it yet, though.)
This book is mentioned in the thoughtful-if-long New York Times Magazine article Texts Without Context, which explores how technology is altering the way we absorb ideas, especially the written word, and how that change in subjectivity is setting us up for subtle but radical shifts in everything from political discourse to the rights of authors.
With respect to this book itself, I'm skeptical.
That we will change as the Web becomes the dominant medium is without doubt. I am moderately confident that these changes will even include physical manifestation within our wetware: connections within our brains will probably have demonstrably different patterns.
What makes me skeptical isn't that there will be a change, but that these changes will be bad. The pejorative "Shallows" in the title hints that Mr. Carr is quite pessimistic about this.
When the literacy and the mechanical press made the writing and reading of books commonplace, I can imagine that Mr. Carr's forerunner griping along similar lines.
After all, if people no longer are forced to memorize entire texts, they won't be able to immediately apply the wisdom within that text to their daily lives. And reading many texts instead of making a lifelong study of the most important few would mean their minds would become confused by the contradictory voices. These contradictions would diminish the objective authority of the best writings, diluting wisdom with the subjective impressions of too many other writers. Furthermore, without exercising the discipline of memorization, people would simply become more stupid! Without hearing the words, they wouldn't learn to listen for the nuances of elocution in the voices of others, and they would lose the guidance of their experienced elders. And all this reading would hurt their eyes! And books are simply unnatural!
Of course, we like to think we've done pretty well with the literary tradition. Has Mr. Carr struck a healthy balance, or is he focusing so severely on what he thinks we will lose that he can't see what we might gain?
So, if I get around to reading this, I'll be reading with a heavy dose of suspicion.
• • • • • • • • • •
A few tidbits since I wrote the above:
The "forerunner" who did, indeed, gripe about the change from an oral culture to literacy was none other than Socrates. Among other aspects of the dialog Phaedrus, he gripes about how literacy is likely to be a bad thing. An extract from the ever-valuable Wikipedia:
Writing, examined separately but ultimately equated with philosophy and rhetoric, is somewhat deprecated; it is stated that writing can do little but remind those who already know, somewhat reminiscent of the archetypal Zen master's admonishment that "those who know, know". Unlike dialectic and rhetoric, writing cannot be tailored to specific situations or students; the writer does not have the luxury of examining his reader's soul in order to determine the proper way to persuade. When attacked it cannot defend itself, and is unable to answer questions or refute criticism. As such, the philosopher uses writing "for the sake of amusing himself" and other similar things rather than for teaching others. A writer, then, is only a philosopher when he can himself argue that his writing is of little worth, among other requirements.
Also, I belatedly realized that Nicholas Carr wrote the inflammatory Is Google Making Us Stupid? for The Atlantic, and this book is an expansion of his ideas there.
Finally, the New York Times has repeatedly referred to Carr's book in their multi-piece examination of how the technology of the modern world is impinging on our cognition. The article Your Brain on Computers leads the assault, and provides links to various other articles and multimedia tests. The Test Your Focus "interactive feature" is fun (I come down solidly in the "able to concentrate" camp, thankfully).
Luckily this was available at the San Francisco Public Library, 'cause it seems to have attracted really excessive prices on at Amazon.
But that's prob...moreLuckily this was available at the San Francisco Public Library, 'cause it seems to have attracted really excessive prices on at Amazon.
But that's probably because it is a crazy good book on getting your yard healthy the natural way: don't put your kitchen waste in that green bin the sanitation technicians bring by — toss it in your compost heap!
Strongly recommended to anyone with a garden.(less)
Dunno if I'll make the time to read this. That 'Muricans are getting really bad at dealing with science is a truism; as someone whose daily entertainm...moreDunno if I'll make the time to read this. That 'Muricans are getting really bad at dealing with science is a truism; as someone whose daily entertainment time budget leans heavily towards science podcasts, I don't need any more lessons in how true this is.
But I can immediately see at least four reasons why this might be so, and other reviews inform me that the authors have ignored what I suspect are the most problematic.
First, does our education system do a decent job of laying the foundation? No, but that's old news and this book apparently doesn't focus on it.
Second, do the scientific elites and their partisans do a good job of fighting for part of the spastic 'Murican attention span? er, probably not, and this seems to be what this book is about.
But: third, are there fundamental reasons why scientific awareness is declining? Well, yes: complexity is way up; and since humans unconsciously shy away from high-cost/low-reward endeavors, that complexity means more and more folks will implicitly free-ride on the expertise of others. Expecting scientific literacy is increasingly unwise. Has the educational establishment (1, above) and the scientific outreach community (2, above) recognized this trend? Perhaps this is, indeed, dealt with in the book, but I haven't seen mention of it.
And: fourth, has the sociology of the West shifted to make this even more problematic? About sixty years ago sociologists were struggling to define and describe changes that seem to have been leading indicators of such a shift (viz., Riesman's The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character). A century ago most science was understandable by lay-folk, but more importantly the economy was production-oriented, so the whole question of "How Things Work" was widely germane. Since WWII we've shifted to a consumer-driven economy, which is fundamentally more interested in "What Are the Cool Kids Buying?" This question is essentially an a-rational one, so the trend is inimical to a perceived need for careful rational thought.
Clearly, if the last trend is real and significant, progress on the other three questions will be ephemeral.
I'd be interested in a book that deals with all of this, but that is asking a lot. Scientific educators already have so much on their plates that their ability to deal with the meta is limited...