"Do you read a book a week?"

“If I spend more than an hour surfing on the internet, I find my thinking has changed, and with it, my concentration,” says Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2010). “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

In July, Amazon announced that, for the first time, the sale of digital editions of books had overtaken the sale of hardbacks. But, Carr says, the recent advent of e-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad don’t guarantee more readers – only different readers.

“To make a book discoverable and searchable online is also to dismember it,” says Carr. “The cohesion of its text, the linearity of its argument or narrative as it flows through scores of pages, is sacrificed.” It loses what John Updike called its “edges” and dissolves into “the vast, rolling waters” of the net.

Reading requires an inner silence that promotes contemplation and imagination. The flashing images, the cacophony of music and voices, the frenetic sound-bite-length snatches of thinking that electronic media flourish on simply preclude the calm, focused, revelatory process that reading represents. If current trends continue, says George Steiner, the joy that comes from attending to a demanding text, mastering the grammar, memorising and concentrating, “may once more become the practice of an elite, of a mandarinate of silences”.

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