On vacation this week, I have some extra time for reading, and one of the books I longed to get back to was Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010).
Chapter four of the book is titled “The Deepening Page,” really a history of how society changed from an oral community to a literate one by the advent of writing and the codex (book). With this “intellectual technology” change came a major transformation of how people thought.
Today I give you a brief section from Carr on how this worked out (there is much more to this fascinating history – and to the main point of the author, and you are greatly encouraged to get this book and read it!):
To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object [as opposed to the oral-tradition culture in which memory played the dominant role]. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot… would call ‘the still point of the turning world.’
And then he further explains the development:
Many people had, of course, cultivated a capacity for sustained attention long before the book or even the alphabet came along. The hunter, the craftsman, the ascetic – all had to train their brains to control and concentrate their attention. What was so remarkable about book reading was that the deep concentration was combined with the highly active and efficient deciphering of text and interpretation of meaning. The reading of a sequence of printed pages was valuable not just for knowledge readers acquired from the author’s words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply (pp.64-65).
But then, even on vacation those “quiet spaces” for “prolonged, undistracted” book reading can be easily interrupted by one’s surroundings. 🙂