Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sans keys

It is ironic that I, a software engineer, sitting at my computer am typing out this post which I shall confess at the outset, is about the ways the internet and computers are changing our 3 R's (I could write it as 3 Rs but a reader might skim over it as 3 rupees, which I have no intention discussing as the value of 3 rupees is all but nearly lost). 
Please find time to read this: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google
Let me be honest, I read one paragraph and then sent it to a reader friend of mine and then read a lot more (measured by the scroll bar having crossed half the screen height) before deciding to write about this. Come on, I suffer from this problem too!!
I must agree with what Carr says in there. We really have changed a lot since the advent of "surfing". I remember surfing in Unix mode when I once had a student's account. I had to use the scroll keys and hops between links and hit enter for launching the webpage! Gosh! Imagine having to navigate through Blogger in such a mode. If I remember right, "D" was used to download (images, pages, whatever). I think the first thing I downloaded was a Mona Lisa painting. All surfing was done without any colour and shape. In spite of that, I had had a bookmark file of over a few hundred entries. Links which I had planned on re-visiting some time in the future. But the future had IE, Opera, Safari and Firefox on the crystal ball (which now resembled a TFT screen gone out of focus!). Thankfully they had a way of importing bookmarks. Now my bookmarks number nearly 4000+!!
I think the point I agree most with, in Carr's article, is about the staccato quality of reading. I read a paragraph, assume that I understand the rest of it (but my mind working like a self-learning spider (in web terminology), weaves logical and intelligent assumptions based on extrapolations and interpolations to create a semblance of having read and assimilated the entire article) and proceed to the next article with the intent of reading it "completely". I recognise my mind working like some summarising-engine: pick the keywords, string them together, pick some names that are mentioned, interpolate, check the nature of the understanding curve, extrapolate, summarise. I had done this about one such book from which I had quoted in an earlier post about the "Lost Art of Reading". Whether I come across as well-read or learned is such a pointless thing when I know that I just dropped the penny in the summarising-machine slot.

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

Nothing is closer to the truth than that. I loved the Hero pens that I had back in school and held earnest conversations with my black Camlin fountain pen with a striped translucent belly. Today, it has been over a few years since I wrote with a fountain pen. I used to have a nib-maintenance kit with me which consisted of a Eau-de-Cologne bottle on whose smooth glass surface I polished my nibs. Nowadays, I confess to being magically taken over by the keyboard. Often (though not always, as my writing includes stressful and tortuous products too) I would start writing and it would just happen: a continuous movement of fingertips on a bunch of yielding black squares in a flow which I would give anything to make permanent. It seems Nietzsche's writing was also altered ever since he took to the typewriter!! I think I should return to pen and paper (purely a romantic coming home).
But I think this approach to information versus delight and knowledge also slides into our approach to many things in life. We no longer are willing to give time to things that need time. Expertise, is one example. People want to become a genius - NOW. They can't wait for 20 years nor go through the rigour of practicing their skill with fervid indulgence. People want to be a philosopher - NOW. They read a bit here, and a bit there, take on a slow and measured baritone and speak as if they have seen it all. People want to be respected - NOW. They have no time to build their reputation through careful and continuous practice of virtue. Gifted genius acknowledges a very short latency between want and realisation. But Time's tell cannot be totally undone, though time's tell should not be the single governing factor of our lives and the pleasure we should all derive from life. It is simply vital to provide for the intangibilities (not as a mere loophole in defining a holistic system, but because we are a product of things tangible and intangible) which cannot be quantified, measured, weighed and set on an assembly line. To quote the article (which I am scanning for apposite lines and points that I can use):

In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation.

And this is where I am reminded of the Glass Bead Game, where the practitioners made contemplation a vital element of the game, because it was transforming into something that people ended up memorising (like chess moves). No, I haven't read the book but have read up to the point (and perhaps a little beyond) where this observation is made. Think about it. 1 week of pure contemplation: no computer, no network, no gadgetry and what will happen!? 
I could summarise, but there is no fun in that. Go figure! :-)


5 comments:

  1. glass bead game is a great book, esp. when it ceases to be abt the game, and becomes a context/vehicle for the magister. a few months ago, i went on vipasanna retreat - no talking, no gadgets, no reading (!!) - for 10 days - it was an interesting experience & sort of shattered a few self myths :)

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  2. Parvati10:58 AM

    I cannot read from the books on available on the net, I need to feel and touch a 'proper' book made of paper and words in ink with a hard cover preferably, and of course fat and sumptuous to feed the mind well. Whereas, to my mother the mode of availability of a book is irrelevant - having lost her heart to Anne of the Green Gables, she was quite disheartened to know that there were 3-4 sequels to that novel and I did not own them. But the moment I brought her attention to the online books, she rolled up her sleeves and is well into the 27th chapter in a total of 30.

    I can read long books but only when they are offline. You seem to be unable to read them whichever form they take; I think people suffering from this syndrome of not being able to read for long, or long pieces of writings, should be barred from even mentioning a book called The Glass Bead Game. :-D

    # Laziness, vanity (to prove to others that one is well informed), insecurity (that there are so many new and exciting pieces of information/writings constantly generated and "oh, I shouldnt miss any of them"), greed (wanting to consume informationwise less and less of more and more things), and also a disability to prioritise for oneself based on one's interests, time available etc as to what reading deserves only a scanning or a cursory skimming, and what will fill you with delight when gone into depths or completed as a 1500 page book - all this together or in clumps or separately methinks are the reason for such a state of affairs as described in the link you have provided here and also in your post.

    #Enjoyable!

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  3. Dear M,
    I so envy you for having gone for the Vipassana retreat! I have been wanting to do that for years since I had heard about it from my professor. Did you enjoy the experience? Yes, solitude does bring out the Truth of a more pulsating fabric. GBG is yet to be read, and I will surely do that.

    Dear P,
    Neither can I read books off the net/comp. It strains the eye and lack of turning pages (PgDn key doesn't count) makes it seem rather abstruse and tiresome. As if the book treats you like an untouchable. Your mother must be a wonderful lady to be able to manage things well.
    I think you are being rather harsh and judgmental in your summary of the inner problems that plague the mind which wanders. Since, you mention Anne of Green Gables, you would note that Anne herself enjoys jumping from one to the other. It might just be child-like glee at the wonders of the universe. There are several innocuous reasons for being that way. But whether one is congenitally thus or not is not the import of this post. It is about how the advent of the internet has created in us a habit to just skim and do so hastily in other walks of life. It could simply be the eye-strain that causes bursts of reading!! :-)

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  4. yes. esp. the solitude & simple living. also liked the experential & practical approach to the 'technique'. i will taking off again soon.

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  5. Parvati4:29 PM

    I just extrapolated on the skimming habit that your post and the link say is aggravated by the internet; hence my point is pertinent to the post since it says that it needn't be the internet that needs be blamed for the hasty skimming, but the person himself, because as my example of my mother proves, people like her still do the dedicated nonskimming reading whether on the internet or from a book.

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