Sunday, February 10, 2008

Really?

John Naughton argues in an article on Reading and the Internet, entitled "Thanks, Gutenberg - but we're too pressed for time to read" that "that the web is having a profound impact on how we conceptualise, seek, evaluate and use information. What Marshall McLuhan called 'the Gutenberg galaxy' - that universe of linear exposition, quiet contemplation, disciplined reading and study - is imploding, and we don't know if what will replace it will be better or worse."

It is easy to agree that "quiet contemplation and disciplined reading and study" are rare nowadays. But what else is new? It has always been rare. Whether it it has become even rarer because the "universe of linear exposition" is imploding is, however, not so easily determined, if only because it is not clear whether there ever was such a "universe." Nor is it clear that the way of conceptualizing and evaluating information has (or will) fundamentally change just because many people seek information in a different way. It may well be true that there is "'a new form of information-seeking behaviour' characterised as being 'horizontal, bouncing, checking and viewing in nature. Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile.' 'Horizontal' information-seeking means 'a form of skimming activity, where people view just one or two pages from an academic site then "bounce" out, perhaps never to return.' The average times users spend on e-book and e-journal sites are very short: typically four and eight minutes respectively." Furthermore, it may also be true that the majority of people tend to do this, but when has the majority of people ever been interested "in quiet contemplation and disciplined reading and study."

I would like to believe that there are no less people interested in such a strenuous activity today than there were one hundred or one thousand years ago. I would also like to believe that this minority always has made a difference, and that they will also make a difference in understanding the opportunities and pitfalls of the new technology. But whatever else is true, I am sure that this won't come the promicuous, diverse and volatile "information seekers."