Proust and the Squid

I finished Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain early this spring, and I have been meaning to revive the blog again periodically for reading notes, so catch as catch can. Initially, I picked up Wolf’s book because I wanted to know how she dealt with the endangered status of reading in the age of the internet, in terms of carrying through as both “story” and “science” of how the reading brain does neurologically what it does. Wolf’s book also figured into Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, and Carr has been drawing attention (on techrhet and from bloggers) more recently following the release of The Shallows. In Carr’s AM article, Wolf was cited as one whose foreboding research insights affirm Carr’s “I’m not the only one” suspicions about the superficiality of reading experiences at the interface. Carr wrote,

Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style
that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening
our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier
technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose
commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere
decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the
rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without
distraction, remains largely disengaged. (para. 8)

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Lobotomap 2

The Yesterblog at the right reminded me that I’d put together one of these three years ago, after lifting the idea from here. And since today’s been one of the those mid-fall brain-stew Fridays, using the last few neuronal pulses that remain after this week, I thought why not conjure up another brain map, even declare the lobotomap a triennial EWM tradition. Until 2011….

Lobotome 2

Moving Meditation

I was out of town and more or less offline late last week when the
July/August Atlantic Monthly hit newsstands with its front cover blazing
the title of Nicholas Carr’s
article, "Is Google
Making Us Stoopid?" (the "Stoopid" is much sexier on the actual cover than it is
here because the letters are done colorfully and in the Google font).
Jeff and

posted thoughtful responses, and I am sure there will be more.

Carr’s article, if you have not read it yet, hops along like Level 1 on
Frogger (which, coincidentally, was released in 1981): without much exertion,
the argument leaps from personal anecdote to the role of media in shaping
cognition to the insidious effects of too much easy access to information via
Google: drumroll…

"[A]s we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world,
it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence" (63).

Carr welcomes skeptics but also fends off all-out dismissals of his deep
wariness of the changes he has experienced first-hand. He begins the article
with his own reasons for believing this "flattening" to be endemic and imminent
for Google users: 1.) he is more and more easily distracted in his own attempts
to read anything longer than a couple of pages and 2.) what was once
pain-staking research is now available to him almost instantaneously. With a
simple search, he can quickly summon great heaps of material on [enter search
terms]: "And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for
concentration and contemplation" (57).

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Close Modeling

Flower and Hayes refer to their studies of talk-aloud protocols as "close
modeling" (53) ("Designing Protocol Studies…", Hayes, Flower, Swarts, 1984).
Close modeling suggests models that are slotted at a certain scale. For
protocol studies, the scale is the solitary writer who is given a specific (if
dull) writing task, who then executes the writing task, and who reports on the
writing process according to a pre-determined processual scheme.

The famous visual model (from the CCC article in 1981) plays only a
minor role in this discussion of close modeling. The visual model is
presented once more in "Designing," reiterated with so little explicit treatment
that its structuring function is more or less obvious and settled.
I mean that it has not changed in the three intervening years. The visual
model is static, inert, a monument.

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