Dancing in digital city

Maryanne Wolf has a book called Reader, Come Home about the way that Digital City is rewiring out brains to have less patience for reading. We no longer immerse ourselves in books. We no long savor great writing or re-read great passages. Sad to say, I did not have the patience to read the whole book.

I notice that my writing style now emphasizes compression. Fewer anecdotes or “throat clearing.” Get to the point.

Compression is not costless. When I listen to “Carry On” by CSNY on Spotify I don’t get the same physical thrill that I used to get from the bass-organ interlude that seemed to wash over my brain in the analog version. You don’t hear the harmonics and overtones in John Phillips’ meticulous arrangements for the Mamas and the Papas in MP3.

The other night I was downstairs dancing. The session leader, in LA, was Orly, a high-energy, carrot-topped pixie. She was playing Tefillot, a brilliantly choreographed dance that I’ve probably enjoyed doing more than a hundred times over the last few years. My wife came downstairs with her computer, and she was watching a session that was based in Denver, with a guest teacher Marcelo based in Argentina. He was teaching Smachot, a difficult dance that I have not done enough times to know. So I turned down Orly and switched to Marcelo.

Is this good or not? Why should we not just stick to one session, rather than switch back and forth? In Analog City, we go to a session, and there would be no option to jump to another session. The Analog City session would be run by a very dedicated and competent leader, who nonetheless lacks the charisma of Orly or Marcelo. The Digital City options are in some sense better, but there is not the same continuity.

It’s like the difference between skimming through Internet writing and sticking with a book. I fear we are losing the capacity for the latter.