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Archive for 'reading'

new book – ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’

May 29, 2010

The Shallows

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton, 2010)

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

The best-selling author of The Big Switch returns with an explosive look at technology’s effect on the mind. “Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

See also: Excerpt at Wired.com, Website for the book, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” at theatlantic.com

Comments (0) - cognitive science,culture,reading

new book – “This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All”

February 3, 2010

This Book Is Overdue!

Hard to resist a book with a caped librarian superhero! Besides, it got a starred review at Publishers Weekly…

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson (Harper, 2010)

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

Buried in info? Cross-eyed over technology? From the bottom of a pile of paper and discs, books, e-books, and scattered thumb drives comes a cry of hope: Make way for the librarians! They want to help. They’re not selling a thing. And librarians know best how to beat a path through the googolplex sources of information available to us, writes Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book, The Dead Beat, breathed merry life into the obituary-writing profession.

This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals and a revelation for readers burned out on the clichés and stereotyping of librarians. Blunt and obscenely funny bloggers spill their stories in these pages, as do a tattooed, hard-partying children’s librarian; a fresh-scrubbed Catholic couple who teach missionaries to use computers; a blue-haired radical who uses her smartphone to help guide street protestors; a plethora of voluptuous avatars and cybrarians; the quiet, law-abiding librarians gagged by the FBI; and a boxing archivist. These are just a few of the visionaries Johnson captures here, pragmatic idealists who fuse the tools of the digital age with their love for the written word and the enduring values of free speech, open access, and scout-badge-quality assistance to anyone in need.

Those who predicted the death of libraries forgot to consider that in the automated maze of contemporary life, none of us—neither the experts nor the hopelessly baffled—can get along without human help. And not just any help—we need librarians, who won’t charge us by the question or roll their eyes, no matter what we ask. Who are they? What do they know? And how quickly can they save us from being buried by the digital age?

See also: Webpage for the book

Comments (0) - culture,new books,reading

coming soon – ‘Reading in the Brain’

November 8, 2009

Reading in the Brain

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention by Stanislaus Dehaene is due out this Thurs (Nov 12) from Viking.

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

A renowned cognitive neuroscientist’s fascinating and highly informative account of how the brain acquires reading

How can a few black marks on a white page evoke an entire universe of sounds and meanings? In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene provides an accessible account of the brain circuitry of reading and explores what he calls the “reading paradox”: Our cortex is the product of millions of years of evolution in a world without writing, so how did it adapt to recognize words? Reading in the Brain describes pioneering research on how we process language, revealing the hidden logic of spelling and the existence of powerful unconscious mechanisms for decoding words of any size, case, or font.

Dehaene’s research will fascinate not only readers interested in science and culture, but also educators concerned with debates on how we learn to read, and who wrestle with pathologies such as dyslexia. Like Steven Pinker, Dehaene argues that the mind is not a blank slate: Writing systems across all cultures rely on the same brain circuits, and reading is only possible insofar as it fits within the limits of a primate brain. Setting cutting-edge science in the context of cultural debate, Reading in the Brain is an unparalleled guide to a uniquely human ability.

The website for the book has chapter summaries and color figures.

Comments (0) - cognitive science,new books,reading

new “Case for Books” by Robert Darnton

October 20, 2009

The Case for Books

The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future by historian Robert Darnton (PublicAffairs, 2009).

(link for UK)

Product description from the publisher:

The invention of writing was one of the most important technological, cultural, and sociological breakthroughs in human history. With the printed book, information and ideas could disseminate more widely and effectively than ever before—and in some cases, affect and redirect the sway of history. Today, nearly one million books are published each year. But is the era of the book as we know it—a codex of bound pages—coming to an end? And if it is, should we celebrate its demise and the creation of a democratic digital future, or mourn an irreplaceable loss? The digital age is revolutionizing the information landscape. Already, more books have been scanned and digitized than were housed in the great library in Alexandria, making available millions of texts for a curious reader at the click of a button, and electronic book sales are growing exponentially. Will this revolution in the delivery of information and entertainment make for more transparent and far-reaching dissemination or create a monopolistic stranglehold?

In The Case for Books, Robert Darnton, an intellectual pioneer in the field of the history of the book and director of Harvard University’s Library, offers an in-depth examination of the book from its earliest beginnings to its shifting role today in popular culture, commerce, and the academy. As an author, editorial advisor, and publishing entrepreneur, Darnton is a unique authority on the life and role of the book in society. This book is a wise work of scholarship—one that requires readers to carefully consider how the digital revolution will broadly affect the marketplace of ideas.

See also:

More new releases in Books & Reading

Barnes & Noble’s upcoming ebook reader

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“The shadow life of reading” – Sven Birkerts, ‘The Gutenberg Elegies’

June 28, 2009

The Gutenberg Elegies

The shadow life of reading begins even while we have the book in hand—begins as soon as we move from the first sentence to the second and start up a memory context. The creation and perpetuation of this context requires that we make a cognitive space, or “open a file,” as it were. Here is the power, the seductiveness of the act: When we read, we create and then occupy a hitherto nonexistent interior locale. Regardless of what happens on the page, the simple fact that we have cleared room for these peculiar figments we now preside over gives us a feeling of freedom and control. No less exalting is the sensation of inner and outer worlds coinciding, going on simultaneously, or very nearly so. … The book is there, waiting, like one of those rare dreams that I half-awaken from and then reenter. Knowing that I have the option of return, this figurative space within the literal space I occupy, changes my relation to that literal space. I am still contained in the world, but I don’t feel trapped in it. Reading creates an imaginary context which then becomes a place of rescue.

Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, p. 98

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