Will Reading Become a Luxury Good?
Despite all the hype about democratization, could the Internet actually increase the intellectual distance between classes? Perhaps—if the only way to escape distractions and focus is retreating to a country home. The New York Times' Ross Douthat hits on this theme in his response to novelist Gary Shteyngart's essay describing how he heads upstate to read, write, and talk face-to-face with friends. "[I]f the best way to escape the gravitational pull of instant, disposable online content and communication," reasons Douthat, "is to physically escape the world of excellent cell phone reception and high-speed internet service," this might wind up condemning the working class to the disadvantages of being continually distracted by Google and Facebook:
Yes, escape and vacation have always been luxury goods, but since the dawn of mass literacy, deep reading has been a possibility for everyone, rich and working-class and poor alike ... Whereas in today's world of wall-to-wall communications, escaping what Nicholas Carr calls "the shallows" requires not only a lively curiosity and an appetite for self-improvement but also heroic acts of self-control--or else the advantages of a vacation house in upstate New York, which is wonderful if you can afford it, but useless if you can't.