Clay Shirky says:
[A] book is a “momentary stay against confusion.” This is something quoted approvingly by Nick Carr, the great scholar of digital confusion. The reading experience is so much more valuable now than it was ten years ago because it’s rarer. I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”
It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.
The social piece of reading is a kind of penumbra. It’s something that forms around the text and after the fact. The feature of “highlight this passage and immediately see how many other people have highlighted it”? I mean, ZOMG, no. I want my own thoughts rendered as the most recent entry in the constant, long-running popularity contest that is the Internet – in real-time. Pick it up and do anything you like with it. Tell me later who else liked it. Show them to me, introduce them to me, whatever — not right now. Right now I’m reading.
Nick Carr adds:
We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.
I’m sure neither author means to suggest that reading physical books is boring. But it does require a qualitatively different kind of attention than the restless browsing that typically happens on the Net, or the multitasking that our new devices make all too easy.
(h/t The Dish; image via CEN)
4/15 Update: I see The Dish has now put up a nearly identical post — ironic, considering a previous Dish link to Shirky’s piece (but emphasizing a different topic) inspired mine. Let the record show that I got to this one first.