January 12, 2009

Computers and Books

Stacy's post on Huntingdon's Clash of Civilisations is well written and thought out. But Stacy's post exemplifies something more than that- something that I often try to do on this blog. It is to take something that does not exist on the net- a book, a film, whatever- and to record your impressions on the net. That kind of article seems to me to distill something for the reader- gives the reader something that they could not find themselves unless they devoted time to reading an hundred pages of Livy or a passage of Huntingdon. I do not underrate the things that you can find on the internet- the Old Bailey website as I have commented before is a key resource for this blog- but I do think that the best blogs are about something more than a dialogue within the internet. Like Ashok for example, they take texts and arguments from outside the net and explain, refine and consider them within the internet. The net here becomes a mere extension of the Republic of Letters- an extension which allows everyone to write a common place book.

I was provoked to this by reading an article from the Scientific American about how we process text. It is an interesting article which argues that reading on the net involves more distractions and makes cognition and comprehension harder- as I read a page on the internet, I have to adapt to colours and adverts- often moving adverts. I find the argument that that changes the experience of reading and perhaps makes it a less intense and 'thick' experience quite convincing. The means of communication may make concentration harder: and in a sense blogging itself is a medium which does not require as much concentration as reading a book. I would expect you to take a couple of minutes to read this article- and then you might pass over to read something else either on this blog or another. Personally this form helpful to distill my arguments about longer passages- like a book or film- but I would find it hard to read for much further than the 10,000th word of an article (trust me on this having written a PhD I have had to read 80,000 words on a screen, it was painful!) Blogging works online because it allows us not to develop major ideas or scholarly rigour- we have neither space nor time- but it allows a common place book, recording impressions and ideas and hopefully developing a community around each blog which discusses and thinks about similar things.


James Hamilton said...

"..record your impressions on the net." Don't they call it the "Web" in Cambridge?

Quite right, of course: I find reading on the screen as opposed to on the page different in the same way as writing and typing. Or living by electric light as opposed to candles and oil lamps. Not a matter of nostalgia: just different modes of processing and thought and experience.

Gracchi said...

They do when they aren't half asleep and suffering from flu!

You've got exactly what I was trying to do- and it changes the best way of communicating.