Demand can now create supply, in the form of ebooks and print on demand. This turns books into a different sort of commodity. No book need ever be out of stock, or out of print, anywhere in the world.
It used to be that if you were OK with people in Podunk having inferior access to books than people in Brooklyn, you were just a realist about the difficulties of making and shipping physical stuff.
Now if you’re OK with that, you’re kind of an asshole.
In the twenty-first century, not being able to correctly stock or distribute a product whose main ingredient is information suggests a degree of technical and managerial incompetence indistinguishable from active malice.
Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren’t the same thing
Photo: A commuter reads on a Kindle e-reader while riding the subway in Cambridge, Mass. Neuroscience says the way his brain treats reading on the Kindle is different than the way the brain processes the newspaper next to him.
Would you like paper or plasma? That’s the question book lovers face now that e-reading has gone mainstream. And, as it turns out, our brains process digital reading very differently.
Manoush Zomorodi, managing editor and host of WNYC’s New Tech City, recalls a conversation with the Washington Post’s Mike Rosenwald, who’s researched the effects of reading on a screen. “He found, like I did, that when he sat down to read a book his brain was jumping around on the page. He was skimming and he couldn’t just settle down. He was treating a book like he was treating his Twitter feed,” she says.
Neuroscience, in fact, has revealed that humans use different parts of the brain when reading from a piece of paper or from a screen. So the more you read on screens, the more your mind shifts towards “non-linear” reading — a practice that involves things like skimming a screen or having your eyes dart around a web page.
“They call it a ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Zoromodi says. “The problem is that many of us have adapted to reading online just too well. And if you don’t use the deep reading part of your brain, you lose the deep reading part of your brain.”
So what’s deep reading? It’s the concentrated kind we do when we want to “immerse ourselves in a novel or read a mortgage document,” Zoromodi says. And that uses the kind of long-established linear reading you don’t typically do on a computer. “Dense text that we really want to understand requires deep reading, and on the internet we don’t do that.”
Linear reading and digital distractions have caught the attention of academics like Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University.
“I don’t worry that we’ll become dumb because of the Internet,” Wolf says, “but I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep reading processes because we’re just given too much stimulation. That’s, I think, the nub of the problem.”
To keep the deep reading part of the brain alive and kicking, Zomorodi says that researchers like Wolf recommend setting aside some time each day to deep read on paper.
And now that children are seemingly growing up with a digital screen in each hand, Wolf says it’s also important that teachers and parents make sure kids are taking some time away from scattered reading. Adults need to ensure that children also practice the deeper, slow reading that we associate with books on paper.
“I think the evidence someday will be able to show us that what we’re after is a discerning ‘bi-literate’ brain,” Wolf says. “That’s going to take some wisdom on our part.”
The ability to attend to our environment, to our own feelings, and to those of others is a naturally evolved feature of the human brain. Attention is a finite commodity, and it is absolutely essential to living a good life. We need attention in order to truly listen to others—and even to ourselves. We need attention to truly enjoy sensory pleasures, as well as for efficient learning. We need it in order to be truly present during sex or to be in love or when we are simply contemplating nature. Our brains can generate only a limited amount of this precious resource every day.
Today, the advertisement and entertainment industries are attacking the very foundations of our capacity for experience, drawing us into the vast and confusing media jungle. They are trying to rob us of as much of our scarce resource as possible, and they are doing so in every more persistent and intelligent ways. Of course, they are increasingly making use of the new insights in the human mind offered by cognitive and brain science to achieve their goals (“neuromarketing” is one of the ugly new buzzwords). We can see the probable result in the epidemic of attention-deficit disorder in children and young adults, in midlife burnout, in rising levels of anxiety in large parts of the population. If I am right that consciousness is the space of attentional agency, and if it is also true that the experience of controlling and sustaining your focus of attention is one of the deeper layers of phenomenal selfhood, then we are currently witnessing not only an organized attack on the space of consciousness per se but a mild form of depersonalization. New medial environments may create a new form of waking consciousness that resembles weakly subjective states—a mixture of dreaming, dementia, intoxication, and infantilization.
Сaged by Oscar Ciutat
“The project started by chance back in 2008. I was visiting the local zoo, which I hadn’t been to in ages, and started taking pictures of the captive animals, just like everyone else was doing. My attention kept being drawn to their eyes, which, to me, seemed very sad, and I ended focusing my camera on them. I was intrigued by whether my impressions would be apparent to other people in the images. I wondered if that popular old saying, referring to humans, that goes the eyes are the windows to the soul could hold true for animals as well.”
The idea works like this: All of Original Unverpackt’s dry goods—rice, cereal, spices—are stored in large dispenser bins, and customers fill containers they have either brought with them or purchased in the store. Liquid goods such as juice or yogurt are sold in jars or bottles with a deposit on them (already an all-but-mandatory system in Germany anyway). There is no minimum limit on how much customers buy, and to ensure that they get a fair deal, the containers that customers bring are weighed and marked accordingly when they enter the shop. Around 80 percent of the store’s products are organic, and while the origin of each product is listed next to the price per kilo, no brand-name products are sold.
[Photo: Jendrik Schröder]
The cynic in me suspects the success of this venture will rest on whether customers will be able to leverage their patronage into self-promoting narratives. It’s seems generally difficult to enhance one’s performed identity with unbranded goods given the potential pitfall of appearing as generic, undifferentiated, unremarkable mediocrity, but some notable successes spring to mind, particularly in no-logo clothing.