Who’s reading, anyway

Posted in Kerouac, Life in general, On writing at 9:07 am by Marion

I read a disturbing article in the Atlantic Monthly yesterday at the bookstore. The title was, Is Google Making us Stoopid? : What the Internet is doing to our Brains

The article read a little bit like a whiner’s rundown of problems with his own ability to focus these days … something we can all relate to … but the article is one of the first to take on the effects all these computers are having on our ability to think.

The author, Nicholas Carr, asserts that the ways we absorb information have rewired us. For instance, we tend now to bounce among sentences rather than reading long chains of them; we hunt for information that interests us and overlook the rest.

One person quoted says he has lost the ability to read “War and Peace.”

There may be some real truth in the article. When I lived in Prague for two years, I had no TV, no Internet and very little radio even.

My mind changed dramatically during those two years … I read everything with immense focus and absorption. Every paragraph had Dickensian consequence for me. I read complex nonfiction books, as well as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pynchon.

Yet, I’ve also done those things in America. I have been reading books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, among the most complex books I’ve ever opened. I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina and poetry.

Lately, however, I have noticed the Internet more than anything makes me anxious.

I’m learning to shut down the computer unless I’m actually working on something. I’ll often sit with paper and pen, notes or manuscripts, and work in peace.

Have we lost something in this country? Yes, no doubt. But we are a consumer-capitalist nation whose strength lies in the ability to sell things. As long as those are our values, we will bombard our citizens with ads and create desire.

What better media to do those things than television and the Internet. As they give us new worlds of information, they also take away a little of our inner peace.

NOW ON PUBLIC RADIO EAST: A trip to New York to see the original manuscript-scroll of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”

NOW AT REFLECTOR ONLINE: “Mythic Miles” – A reflection on the novel.

Plus a look at Kerouac’s eastern North Carolina home

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