Editor's Note: Concentration vs. Distraction
Carr identifies this as the cultural and financial power struggle underlying the technological disruption affecting the industry. "Whatever Bezos and [Google's] Larry Page dream of, they are not the dreams of book publishers."
Perhaps Carr was just trying to rile a sleepy conference hall, but I think his argument is a good backdrop for considering the future of the book and the book business. The path of the industry will run a course along how modern people balance concentration and distraction.
Though I'd say that Carr is rightfully suspicious, these types of conversations about how technology is affecting us seem to quickly devolve, degraded by technophobia, ageism, and warnings of an intellectual doomsday. Should we be skeptical of technology and seek to define how it fits into our lives lest it define us? Sure, that's a noble cause. But ultimately technology is like water running downhill: it is an undeniable force that will wash over us and change us inextricably. Get used to it.
That might sound fatalistic, but overall I'm more optimistic than Carr. Very recent history shows us that society is overly-fearful of new technology. In its early days the telephone was feared and hated. Some people worried others would listen to their conversations, that the sounds from telephones were dangerous, that they detrimentally accelerated our social life, and that phones were interruptive to our "normal" face-to-face social interactions. But somehow we managed. We recognized the utility of phones, improved them with enhancements like caller ID (Remember when you had to answer the phone to find out who was calling?), and they have become just one of many tools of communication we manage seamlessly in our lives. Has the telephone made us stupid?
In the end it's not a battle between interactive-social-connected-responsive digital books and traditional books. It's not one or the other. It's books and ebooks and…the list will go on. Ultimately, the only question is whether people will continue to find utility in the book-reading experience—that desire to be absorbed by narrative, the deep understanding that comes from reading a book, the emotional connection and spiritual awakening that millions have found through written communication for thousands of years. I think they will. Do you?
Denis Wilson was previously content director for Target Marketing, Publishing Executive, and Book Business, as well as the FUSE Media and BRAND United summits. In this role, he analyzed and reported on the fundamental changes affecting the media and marketing industries and aimed to serve content-driven businesses with practical and strategic insight. As a writer, Denis’ work has been published by Fast Company, Rolling Stone, Fortune, and The New York Times.