Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize winner for literature, is the latest to mount her rhetorical horse and try to skewer the blogosphere — and the Internets in general — as being bad for our Culture, bad for Knowledge, and generally just not as good as Books and That Sort of Thing. Duncan Riley is right to call this approach Keensian (as in Andrew Keen, who I just finished writing about) because the same impulse drives both of them: the impulse to see ideas and knowledge as valuable only if they appear in books.
This is more an example of intellectual fetishism than anything else, I suspect. Nick Carr is clearly in this camp as well, although it’s not evident so much in his actual post on Lessing’s speech as it is in the comments, when he responds with umbrage to one of his readers by saying that:
“fucking around with ‘text’ all day has absolutely nothing to do with reading serious, challenging books… she’s talking about the desire to read good books as a manifestation of the desire to expand one’s knowledge and understanding of one’s world.”
As a commenter quickly notes, however, a desire to expand one’s knowledge and understanding of the world is not synonymous with books, no matter how much Doris and Nick wishes that it were. It used to be, yes — and for the kinds of places that Ms. Lessing talks about in her speech, it still is. But it’s quite a leap to say that blogs and the Internet in general are just a waste of time compared with anything book-related. I would have expected a bit more insight from Ms. Lessing.
As Shelley points out at Burningbird, wasting time and mindless entertainment in general have a long and storied history that stretches back through the entirety of human history — it is no more a product of the Internet than it was a product of radio, or the “talkies,” or cave paintings and getting drunk on fermented wheat were thousands of years ago.