The more you read, the less convinced you are

By Razib Khan | January 12, 2013 11:13 pm

After last week’s post on e-books I started reading some of the interactions that Nicholas Carr was having with others. This post, which mostly consists of exchanges between Carr and Clay Shirky has to be read to believed. Shirky’s comment “as usual your remarks defy a simple reply” encapsulates my own reaction to Carr. The more I read from him the less persuaded and the more skeptical I become of his contentions. Carr deploys analogies like a lawyer holding forth to a dull jury in classic cinematic fashion. Upon further inspection the point is often facile, but there is a superficial gleam of plausibility which might convince those not so mentally endowed and eager to swallow the tendentious propositions whole.

An issue where I might find common cause with Carr is that the past should not always be consigned to the dustbins of history. There are cultural forms which are beautiful, and yet historically contingent, which we should endeavor to maintain. We don’t need to justify our continued existence as individual humans, and not all specific aspects of culture need special pleading. On occasion what existence is sufficient argument for persistence. With all that admitted I do not judge Carr’s arguments in favor of a particular physical medium for the delivery of text or audio persuasive in the least. Rather shockingly to me I feel that an Aristotelian framework may be useful in communicating my primary objection: the essence of the book, the authorial narrative, is not contingent upon its material packaging. Rather, those are incidental to its central purpose and character. Others are free to disagree with this, but this is not a matter of interpretation, it’s axiomatic.

Additionally, I find it appropriate to observe the moderately acid tone which Carr takes with Shirky (“deal with it”) undermines his thesis that physical books and albums are here to stay as central elements of our cultural consumption. This is not the conventional method of someone who believers that history is going to be on their side.

MORE ABOUT: e-books, Nicholas Carr

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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