Sunday, January 06, 2013

We'll Burn Fires and Lights and We'll Talk of the Old Ways

Razib Khan:

Nicholas G. Carr, purveyor of high-brow neo-ludditism and archeo-utopianism, has a piece out in The Wall Street Journal, Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay. The subtitle is “The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing. Readers still want to turn those crisp, bound pages.” Here are some of his rancid chestnuts of un-wisdom:

I know it's a little awkward to end that excerpt right there, but I don't care. I just had to include that last line. Anyway, please continue!

...If Nicholas Carr truly believes what he’s saying, I’m curious if he’d be willing to make a bet on the market penetration of e-books in 2017. I suspect the reality is that op-eds such as this are expressions of his sentiment and preference, not a genuine prediction rooted in an understanding of how the world is, as opposed to how an individual might want the world to be.

The fact is, most people stop reading as soon as they escape the clutches of teachers who force them to do it. The book-buying public has always been a relatively small group. Carr's big idea, though, appeals to a much larger group: those who would like to think of themselves as readers, as deep thinkers, even though they actually spend most of their time sending texts and playing games on their phones. Those who have been raised with the assumption that they have unlimited potential, but have never done anything particularly impressive with it. See, you've never gotten around to writing the Great American Novel or reading all the classics, not because you've never distinguished between whether you really want to do it or if you just think it's the sort of thing you should aspire to, or because you shrink from the necessary sacrifices and don't want to admit it, but because your gadgets have rewired your brain.

In other words, it's not surprising that a guy who has made quite a career for himself by telling people what they want to hear might succumb to the temptation to give himself some of that sweet reassurance.