Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Future of the Reading Brain

Tom Holland, in the very interesting debate on digital publishing at the end of the Society of Authors meeting in Baden Powell House yesterday, described a dystopian view on reading. Anyone brought up in the 'digital age' is so used to reading snapshots without any depth that they never learn to enjoy it. Therefore the demand for novels and extended pieces of non-fiction plummets and they are no longer published.

I wonder if such brains would look different, or light up in a different way in an MRI scan. I wonder too if we would lose more than just the ability to read in depth. Maybe our ability to follow logical thought and reasoning would suffer. Maybe it would affect the way we speak; sentences truncated until people spoke in a kind of shortened code - a single word for a well-used phrase. Since there then would be just a limited number of phrases to use I think this would be possible.

However, another thought keeps recurring when I hear about the effect of technology on our social and psychological future: all of this is dependent on computers and the associated paraphernalia and our ability to make them, which in turn depends on energy. So what happens after oil peak? Perhaps the resulting lack of energy and petrochemicals will cause a return to basics: the book will again reign supreme, and by this I mean the printed sort rather than an ibook.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe our ability to follow logical thought and reasoning would suffer [from the disability to read in depth]. Maybe it would affect the way we speak [...]"

Probably not. I'd say that humans were capable of logic and reason before the invention of writing (and logical thought is present even in individual who don't read). All writing is not logical, far from it. What we know about oral literature proves that poetry and "ordinary" speech can be quite elaborate even if not written down. Length has nothing to do with depth ; Lao-tsé's writings are very short indeed.

As for energy, I submit that there are other forms of energy than oil, for instance, solar energy. Our descendants will probably use this instead of petrol and coal. For one thing, the air will be cleaner!

— Gilles

Sat Oct 02, 08:15:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Hi Gilles:

I'm sure humans were capable of logic and reason before writing, and yes, the illiterate is certainly capable of logical thought... however, I think writing helps in the process. It is is certainly my experience. Because I have a poor memory and need to frequently refer to what I've said, and what other have said, I am sure that my thoughts are much deeper because I am literate.

And yes, not all writing is logical, just as not all speech is logical - but when it is written down it is far easier to spot inconsistencies and argue back.

I am sure you can have deep short thoughts - but for some reasoning, for instance where many factors are involved then a little length is essential. Writing helps to keep track.

And yes, there are other forms of energy - but the question of whether they alone will be sufficient to fuel the burgeoning population with its burgeoning technological requirement and expectations is doubtful, I believe.

Sat Oct 02, 05:27:00 pm  

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