Carr’s model for what we might call the ‘book-user’—the contemplative literate subject—is grounded particularly in visions from American Transcendentalism and Romantic poetry. It is Nathaniel Hawthorne sitting meditatively in Concord, Massachusetts, prior to having his concentration broken by the intruding sounds of modernity, or the Keats of Ode to Psyche. This figure supplies the norm against which to measure our technological decline. But it surely faces many other challenges at present than the formal character of technology: the generalization of insecurity and economic precarity; the erosion of the separation between work and life; the decline of the home’s integrity as a space external to the bustle of capitalist existence. In this world it is for most of us, sadly, a rare thing to be able to carve out the psychological space that this figure requires, to sit at length with the tranquillity required for ‘deep’ reading. The computer and the Web may well be significant factors in bringing this situation about—not only through our direct interactions with them, but also through their social, economic and cultural implications, many of which are ably traced by Carr across his three books. But there are clearly other factors too, beyond technology. The Web, we might say, is the pre-eminent technological construct of an increasingly sickly neoliberal capitalism. As such, it is a major factor in shaping the vectors of behaviour and experience that characterize this world. But it is also a product of these, and of the society in which they take place. It is hardly surprising that the technology of a hyper-flexibilized, insecure, turbulent world offers little security to the purposefully structured, meditative mind.
I’m sympathetic to the desire for such contemplative space and activity, of course. I just hate the way Carr has carelessly juxtaposed it in such trite, romantic contrast to technology.