February 13, 2011
Follow me on Twitter

Gopnick on Carr

In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnick surveys a host of books about the impact of the internet. Of Carr’s much-publicized The Shallows, Gopnick writes

Similarly, Nicholas Carr cites Martin Heidegger for having seen, in the mid-fifties, that new technologies would break the meditational space on which Western wisdoms depend. Since Heidegger had not long before walked straight out of his own meditational space into the arms of the Nazis, it’s hard to have much nostalgia for this version of the past.

On the "fragmented, multi-part shimmering around us, unstable and impossible to fix" that Web surfing supposedly evokes, Gopnick observes sensibly that

This complaint, though deeply felt by our contemporary Better-Nevers, is identical to Baudelaire’s perception about modern Paris in 1855, or Walter Benjamin’s about Berlin in 1930, or Marshall McLuhan’s in the face of three-channel television (and Canadian television, at that) in 1965. When department stores had Christmas windows with clockwork puppets, the world was going to pieces; when the city streets were filled with horse-drawn carriages running by bright-colored posters, you could no longer tell the real from the simulated; when people were listening to shellac 78s and looking at color newspaper supplements, the world had become a kaleidoscope of disassociated imagery; and when the broadcast air was filled with droning black-and-white images of men in suits reading news, all of life had become indistinguishable from your fantasies of it. It was Marx, not Steve Jobs, who said that the character of modern life is that everything falls apart.


Once more quote, because reading Gopnick’s review is so much fun. Gopnick warns that, just because there’s some precedent for the modern condition, we can’t be certain that the Internet isn’t the real disaster:

“Oh, they always say that about the barbarians, but every generation has its barbarians, and every generation assimilates them,” one Roman reassured another when the Vandals were at the gates, and next thing you knew there wasn’t a hot bath or a good book for another thousand years.