I’ve longwonderedabout the differences between reading in print, reading online, and reading in mobile formats. Science is bearing out my belief that our brains apprehend and process language differently in different mediums.
Technology is changing the way we read, with a much greater emphasis on skimming and speed reading. Apps like Spritz—well-intentioned though they may be—intrinsically promote an idea that reading isn’t worth investing time, a belief that deep reading is flawed because it’s inefficient.
I can’t believe that this is a good thing. So I was very happy to read this article:
Digital librarians spend a lot of time thinking about online and mobile reference. Reference is the core service of libraries—helping people find the information they need is what librarians have been doing for centuries.
We need to explore methods to translate reference services into digital environments. I’m happy to see all the work being done on this front.
One of the concerns that comes up pretty often in discussions of mobile reference is the competition with online, crowd-sourced Q&A services like Yahoo Answers. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m convinced that this concern is a red herring.
The central thesis of Everything Is Miscellaneous is one with which I completely agree: digital information environments allow us to organize, access, and interact with information in new and previously undreamt ways. It allows us to transcend the limitations of physical storage and communication media, to free information to be everywhere and anywhere all at the same time.
It allows information to be whatever we need, whenever we need it. There exists more potential now to add more value, not just to information itself, but to the ways we access and interact with it. Mr. Weinberger offers us a powerful and compelling vision for our digital information world.
These three quotes perfectly sum up what this book is about:
From p. 212:
The difference in the digital order is the difference between the annoying interactions you have on a product support line… and the conversations you have with real people. … The potential for connections from the trivial to the urgent is characteristic of the new miscellany. We are busily creating as many of these meaningful connections as we can.
I’ve concluded that I’m wrong about this. Not that there aren’t plenty of solipsistic echo chambers online, but it’s nothing to do with the inherent nature of the internet or social media. It’s to do with the inherent nature of human beings.
Consider—Outside of school and work assignments, no one is required to read books they don’t want, to talk to people they don’t like, to see or listen to things they don’t agree with, and many people don’t. We’ve always either avoided or sought out challenge and disagreement, accord and reinforcement, each based on our individual natures. Preaching to the choir, seeking affirmation of our beliefs and opinions, burying our heads in the sand… These things have always been how we behave.
Very few individuals handle disagreement or conflict well. Most people do everything they can to avoid it. This has always been true.
The internet may bring our echo chambers to a larger scale and make them more explicit—but this isn’t a flaw inherent to the internet itself. Indeed, maybe making our echo chambers so much more explicit helps us to counter them.
And the internet also makes it easier than ever before in history for people to encounter ideas and perspectives they never knew existed. This is a good thing, no matter how much it sometimes makes us uncomfortable and scares us.