Saturday, 31 December 2011

On books, the digital landscape and bigger stuff

Before Xmas, I watched the BBC documentary called Books - The Last chapter? in which Alan Yentob spoke to writers, agents, publishers and thinkers about the future of the printed word.  Or books to be precise.  I found it thought-provoking, disturbing and strangely moving.  I cried.  Then I watched it again and made notes because in June 2012 I will be organising a conference in Folkestone to explore and discuss the way that digital technology is impacting on writers and readers.

Some choice snippets from the BBC programme:
  • Digital makes the private public. 
  • Technology expands the mind but shrinks the world
  • Technology offers a choice to broaden horizons
  • Are we addicted to technology? 
  • We are trading 24 hour global connectivity for privacy, individuality and ultimately humanity
  • "The challenge today is to disconnect.  It takes religious conviction to say no to it, because everyone’s at the party, everyone wants your attention, everyone’s screaming for it.  The party’s everywhere.”   (writer Gary Shteyngart)
  • We made the books, then the books made us
  • “First we shape our tools, then our tools shape us.”  (Marshall McLuhan)*
  • The internet is brain changing.  The way the brain experiences a book (printed) is different to a digital book. 
The last point interested me and a reference was made to Hebb’s Law.  If I understood it correctly, the assertion was that if you use a specific technology often enough (or undertake any highly repetitive action) neurons in your brain fire in a certain way and make strong connections so that the action we undertake becomes second nature.  This “rewires” the brain.  The conclusion being that as human beings, use of digital technology that encourages a short attention span could mean we are effectively rewriting or re-programming our brains and that this will affect our evolution.  Mind blowing (literally).
“Electronic media creates an oral culture - emotional, subjective, collective, irrational.”  Marshall McLuhan again.  

* Marshall McLuhan was a prophet in his own time. As early as the 1960s, he saw the powerful impact of technological change on the world and showed us a new way to explain our world and society. Today, such McLuhan phrases as "sensory impact," "the global village," and "the medium is the message" have become part of the language. 

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