Changing the Subject; Art and Attention in the Internet Age.

Author:McCorquodale, Amanda
Position:Book review

Sven Birkerts; CHANGING THE SUBJECT; Graywolf Press (Nonfiction: Culture) 16.00 ISBN: 9781555977214

Byline: Amanda McCorquodale

These seventeen exceptionally well-written essays explain that an unprecedented explosion of data injures the restorative nature of certain important ways of thinking.

Sven Birkert's Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age is a vivid and eloquent look at how technology affects our reading habits and, ultimately, injures the restorative nature of material culture: novels, letters, bookshelves, and record-store shopping.

The new information culture -- e-mail, e-readers, online news aggregates, apps -- results in a trend of merely harvesting facts, Birkerts writes. What's lost, or "demoted," is certain ways of thinking -- namely, reflection, imaginative projection, and contemplation.

This is not just another book demonizing technology while advocating mindfulness. Instead, Birkerts, an American essayist and literary critic, uses literature and poetic observation to exalt the aspects of culture that are overshadowed by what he calls the "unprecedented explosion of data." He writes beautifully on the inherent experience of reading a novel, writing a letter, or even navigating a map. He argues that there is inherent value in a book and its ideas, taking up physical space in your hands and surroundings. Likewise, he describes the benefits of getting lost and...

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