Monet-madame

Nick Carr continues to lament how the internet has changed reading:

The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory, the scratch pad of consciousness, to long-term memory, the mind’s filing system. When facts and experiences enter our long-term memory, we are able to weave them into the complex ideas that give richness to our thought. But the passage from working memory to long-term memory also forms a bottleneck in our brain. Whereas long-term memory has an almost unlimited capacity, working memory can hold only a relatively small amount of information at a time. And that short-term storage is fragile: A break in our attention can sweep its contents from our mind.

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in moving information from working memory into long-term memory. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by varying the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer much of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of knowledge and wisdom.

On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream.

I know Carr is a broken record on this, but I don't doubt he's onto something. Since blogging - and the demands of blogging - has taken over much of my writing and reading life, I find long-form books, which were once a staple of my education, harder to read. And although I seem able to process and retain large amounts of information and facts on this blog on a daily, hourly, basis, soon they have to make way for more. My ability to forget has grown as my consumption of data has increased.

I don't think this is really best described as reading. Reading takes time, especially if you read slowly, as I do. A real book takes longer to absorb. You need to let a great book wander around your mind as you go along. Online, there is no wandering. The journey is so packed, the distances so great, it is more like watching the landscape from a train. 

(Painting: “Camille Monet and a Child in a Garden”, 1875, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.)

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