A little plug for “War and Peace”.

A friend of mine recommended this month’s cover story over at the Atlantic Monthly, “Is Google Making Us Stoopid“, by Nicholas Carr, and now that I’ve read it, I’d like to recommend it to you. It’s a somewhat long article, so if you’re stopping by my blog during a tiny little hiatus in your work day, I’d say wait until lunch or until tonight when you’ve got some time to really sit down and read it.

Because that’s what it’s about really…how we simply can’t sit down and read a long article or book anymore. How the Internet is changing our brain, how constant data streams of smaller bits of information, snatched in brief moments of fleeting free time might actually have a lasting and permanent impact on our brain’s mapping and chemistry and all that shit. How today’s modern reader may no longer be able to sit down and lose themselves in War and Peace.

And you know, I’m not surprised. At all.

I haven’t been online much the past few days. Sunday was RegularNephew’s first birthday, so we drove on up to RegularSis’s house and had ourselves a little party at a nearby Chili’s.

And then yesterday, RegularDad had the day off so we spent the day cleaning out the laundry room and making yet more progress on the giant home project we like to call UNPACKING, which is really just us opening up box after box after box of utter CRAP, looking blankly at the contents, scratching our heads quizzically, and then transferring the contents of the box directly into the trash bin and hiding when the trash truck comes because these guys must think we’re nuts by now, or if not nuts, at least a family of people recovering from that weird pack rat syndrome.

And then today, it was back to a regular schedule, but the truth is, my regular schedule doesn’t exactly allow for a lot of free surfin’ time, especially when my day includes writing time. And days that include writing time are days in which I feel better about my life choices and my parenting skills, and I yell less, so we try to make those days happen a lot.

It wasn’t until almost 9:00 tonight that I was finally able to sit down and open my blog and see what I wanted to say. And the thing is: that’s okay. A few days away from the Internet was downright refreshing.

Because I’m one of those weird people who exists on the outer fringe of all this. Who still likes to read long, complicated books, who still wants to get the paper ON PAPER and flip lazily through the pages while sipping coffee and eating bagels and listening to the kids fight over the comics.

I want to use the Internet for all the good it has to offer, but not be consumed by it. I want to close my browser and go get myself a copy of something by Dickens or Tolstoy and go sit outside with a glass of iced tea with it, and curse when the condensation drips onto the pages and wipe away the water with my finger and just keep reading.

And I’m sitting here wondering if that’s just a naive little pipe dream. 

Here’s a memorable quote from the article:

Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us.

Reprogramming. That’s a word to keep you up later than usual tonight. You will be have been assimilated.

And even in spite of my wants and wishes, in spite of my best efforts, I also am changed because of the Internet. I had just settled down to read this long-ish article (off my laptop — no printed copy here) and as I hit paragraph 3 in which Carr addresses how difficult it’s become to immerse oneself in a long article or a book, I found my attention had wandered from the text to things like possible blog titles for the entry I planned to write on this topic, to wondering if anyone else had already blogged on this yet, and then a quick glance at the scroll bar at the right, to check it’s length and position on the screen so as to gauge just how long this article would be and how far I’d come in it, and on and on and on. I kept having to force my brain back to the words in front of me, force myself to concentrate on the meaning behind the words, which was of course, how hard it is to make today’s brains concentrate on anything longer than news blips on Yahoo’s homepage or the latest YouTube video.

And then I think about how schools are using the Internet now, and how computers have become essential tools in the classroom, and how no one is reading books anymore, and I just want to run screaming down the street because there’s just no way to make any of it stop, but instead of doing that, I find myself once again renegotiating my stopping point, and mentally redrawing my line in the sand, lips pressed flat and determind, knowing that pretty soon something else will come up and I’ll be doing this again. And again. And again.

And then, I pick up our copy of Gilgamesh, or perhaps The Iliad, and read it to my children again. I barricade them and myself behind a great wall of printed words, because that’s all I can think of, and when they ask to go online to visit their Webkinz, I smile and say, “Maybe later.”



6 Responses to “A little plug for “War and Peace”.”

  1. 1 Mommylion June 18, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Very interesting points. I think without a doubt it is changing our brains, but the novel used to be considered the same sort of bad future change agent. And I guess it sort of was.

  2. 2 Heather June 18, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I think the problem I have with reading articles online is the fact that it’s on the computer. I don’t get on the computer in the evenings, because I’m looking for something non-electronic and quiet to do. I can read my long novels then (though not War and Peace, just not my thing honestly). In the evenings, the kids are in bed and the tv is off and I can just lose myself in a good book. But during the day, there’s noise everywhere, and the kids are saying, “Hey Mama, can we have hot chocolate?” and,”Hey Mama, come see this thing I built in the back yard,” and lots of stuff like that. And I’m lucky if I can get through a whole sentence without being interrupted by something.

    Another big problem I see is finding JUST the information you’re looking for, as with Google. You want to know how often snakes shed their skin, so you type, “snakes shed skin how often” in the Google search box, and you do ctrl+F to find the exact word “shed” on the page. The old way had you checking out a book on snakes from the library, where you’d have to read the whole thing to find the information you want, and chances are you’d learn a bunch more stuff than just the one thing you were looking for in the first place. Of course this could have been mentioned in the article, but I haven’t read it yet. Cuz it’s daytime and I’ve already been interrupted four times while typing these two paragraphs.

  3. 3 Sara June 18, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Everything in moderation, and we’re all good. The novel was hailed as a destructive force, and anyone who’s ever spent a summer reading nothing but trashy harlequin romance novels can attest to the truth behind that fear. Then there was television, and that was justified in a way also. But I like some programs, and I’ve seen animals and places in the world on TV that I would never get to see in real life. So, I like to think we can have our cake and eat it too, if we just stick to a moderate level of use of all these things.

  4. 4 Mom #1 June 18, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Oh, yes, I feel ya.

    If there’s a Mom out there who has mastered balance, please email me (in 5 sentences or less) because I’ve got a lot of blogs to hit before I try to grade papers, cook, clean the kitchen, get Baby Boy to martial arts, and then settle down to read one maybe two chapters of my book.


  5. 5 Katherine June 18, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Hey, great minds think a like. Did you see this the nytimes printed today? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/opinion/18wed3.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    : ) K

  6. 6 Maria June 19, 2008 at 10:13 am

    What Sara said.

    But that is just my problem..I tend to be rather addicted to the PC in my life. Too addicted. I can DEFINATELY see a change in my attention span and I DON”T LIKE IT> So I take a self imposed hiatus..or lately a “life imposed” hiatus..and, once the addiction wears off, it feels SO good. Really good. But then I miss people….people like, well, RegularMom so I have to read what she’s up to…then I’ll link to something else, adn then I’ll read another blog and before your know it…well, here I go again…

    I mean I SKIMMED this article! No. Not really. Well, maybe a bit…but at any rate, I’m digressing into addiction which is not what the article was about. But reprogramming. And yes, it’s true. And my dd10 is not even slightly interested in a computer. And I”ll keep it that way as long as possible…

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