Digging The Digital Word

by Mike Saye  ·  November 01, 2012

I’m taking a Shakespeare course, and recently, we were discussing the making of Renaissance books, the painstaking, hard work and the eye-blearing patience that goes along with it.

In case you didn’t know, it’s much easier to acquire text these days. (The form of rhetorical device I just used there was meiosis or litotes.) Printed words of any type, kind, or sort required genuine labor for their production during that time and for much of the history of printing. For comparison’s sake, the next time you’re stuck in traffic because of road work, watch the people laying down asphalt. Watch the folks in the road roller trudging behind the paver which is fed asphalt from a dump truck. They do this for miles and miles. You despise the way they delay your commute, yet you love the smooth, glide-like progress of your automobile along their fresh black roadway. Printing books was comparable to this. Seriously, it kind of was.

Road Roller

During that same Shakespeare lecture, we spoke briefly about Nicolas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, which discusses various ways in which the internet ruins our ability to concentrate for long periods of time. To add credence to Carr’s point, I just scanned the article and skipped the book excerpt, which I urge you to do as well. Carr argues that the internet trains us to have short attention spans: brain plasticity is the culprit here.

I have no problem with this.

You see, the short attention span works in my favor. For instance, I just brought Carr’s book up and most of you short-attention-spanners won’t remember reading about it way back in 2010, so I just laid down some new-old-stock digital information for you.

Short attention spans also mean that most of you will thank me profusely for keeping this post short, since you’ll get to experience the endorphin rush of actually reading something to completion (you’re welcome), assuming of course that you aren’t still looking up Greek rhetorical terms over at the Free Dictionary – I agree, it really is a fascinating discipline.

Am I calling us goldfish, constantly delighted with the same small bowl because we can’t remember having seen it’s curvy corners over and over and over? Not really. If neuroplasticity is the culprit, it’s also the solution because it works both ways.

I, for one, am thankful for the over-abundance of text that allows me to accept or disregard information. Remember, Othello wooed Desdemona with stories of the Anthropophagi because she (as well as a large portion of Shakespeare’s audience) did not have recourse to better information. We all know where that got her.