Editor's Note: Concentration vs. Distraction
As is clear from the editorial coverage in this issue of Book Business, the industry is abuzz with talk of the new subscription economy and its impact on how books are discovered, accessed, and monetized. If this is the discussion that has taken center stage, in the wings persists a rumbling over how new technologies and content platforms are affecting the very nature of the book as we know it. Author Nicholas Carr addressed this issue to kick off this year's IDPF Digital Book conference.
Known in part for his 2008 article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Carr is admittedly suspicious of the ever-deepening role that computers have had in our culture. And though he says he's overcome his "ebook-phobia," he remains doubtful that computer-enabled reading can serve the same purpose as traditional books have.
It's worth spending some time on Carr's assertion here because I think it is an important focal point for the industry. Carr argues that digital platforms are antithetical to the traditional book-reading experience. Revealed by this view are two conflicting forces at play: distraction and concentration.
Carr believes the mind we read with is very different from the mind we use to navigate our everyday lives. "We are always trying to act on or manipulate our environment. When we open a book our attitude and expectations change." Because we understand our role is not to change the book as a work of art, we disengage and are absorbed in the act of reading. If the power of books lies in detachment as Carr suggests, "computer culture" runs counter to this power.
Ceding control of book distribution to Silicon Valley has undermined the culture of book reading, says Carr, because the interests of Silicon Valley are not the interests of the book industry. "Their interests lie in promoting the culture of the computer. When a person is not engaged with the computer, they are not feeding money into the coffers of the internet companies."