Why the newspaper has a future in the digital age
This week, my teenage daughter became an Irish Times reader, having taken delivery on Monday of the first episode of the subscription I’ve taken out for her.
Thing is, though she’s an extraordinary, sharp and curious young woman – connected to reality in all its deeper aspects – I recently got to thinking that, like many of her generation – and other generations for some time – she has something of a blind spot about current affairs, at least of the national variety, something the education system seems almost deliberately to inculcate.
So I suggested that reading a daily newspaper might be a good idea – even if only to help with essay options come exam time. Actually, I had in mind something more fundamental: that, if she is to belong to whatever we nowadays consider this entity called Ireland – nation? business? who knows? – she could do worse than read all about it from time to time.
To my shame, my first thought was that she should read the Irish Times online. This from a man with my reputation, who a year ago gave her Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, which she’s assured me has been working its way up her bedside reading queue.
Carr argues that the internet is changing how we read, and therefore how we think, feel and remember – and not in good ways. Without reading it, my daughter arrived at what is actually the principal conclusion of The Shallows. In response to my suggestion that she read the newspaper online, she said that she couldn’t concentrate properly for long when reading on a screen. Coming from a 57-year-old “self-confessed Luddite” such a contention is easily dismissed, but from the mouth of an effervescent 16 year old it commands some attention.
Here’s one of the remarkable things I’ve noticed about my daughter’s generation of teenagers: whereas their elders, even their more immediate seniors, are obsessed with modernity for its own sake, they have this capacity to look objectively at each new thing.
They regard books as books, not as collections of encrypted data hanging like bats in cyberspace – and they love them deeply. They prefer music on vinyl, not because it’s fashionable, but because it sounds better. They’re not afraid of technology, but nor are they techno-fetishists for whom machines offer a shield against the world.
The Shallows is a deep and complex book, which delves first into the workings of the human brain and then departs on a history of the written word. Carr outlines how the distraction-ethos of the web may be rendering impossible the process of deep-reading by which the deeper sensibility of man has been nurtured since the invention of the printing press. And this, he elaborates, is short-circuiting the process by which our memory banks are filled with profound understandings and complex connections.