You are where you read

Internet‘Too much internet usage fragments the brain and dissipates concentration so that after a while, one’s ability to spend long, focused hours immersed in a single subject becomes blunted. Information comes pre-digested in small pieces, one grazes on endless ready meals and snacks of the mind, and the result is mental malnutrition. The internet can also have a pernicious influence on reading because it is full of book-related gossip and chatter on which it is fatally easy to waste time that should be spent actualy paying close attention to the books themselves, whether writing them or reading them’. – Susan Hill, Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home (London: Profile Books, 2009), 2.

Who’s buying this?

[HT: Jim Gordon and Amazon Reader]


  1. Ms. Hill seems to be tacitly referring to the vice of what Augustine called curiositas, and Aquinas later contrasted with the virtue of studiositas, which he annexed under temperance as having the mode of restraint. Curiositas, badly translated as curiosity, is the vice that disposes a person to try and consume as much knowledge as possible. Paul Griffiths writes about how such a vice leads to the futile attempt to own knowledge, to draw it into oneself as private, and to establish boundaries around what access others have to it. Josef Pieper writes about how curiositas is about creating “visual noise” around you, constant distractions away from the vita contempletiva. In contrast, studiositas is the virtue that disposes a person to study or consume knowledge deeply, to enter into the object of knowledge as a participant, not an owner, as Griffiths might say. Studiositas should lead to contemplation, not distract from it.

    The internet is not antithetical to studious habituation. It is a temptation. One can study, I am convinced, as deeply on the internet as one can in a library, surrounded by books. Which is why we need to habituate our appetites for knowledge for virtue before we allow ourselves serious exposure to the temptations of the internet. Thus, the blogger and blog reader should constantly check him or herself to ensure that she is engaging in worthwhile pursuits that are enhancing, not detracting from a total life of virtue. If one reads nothing but blogs, one has probably gone to excess. But if one reads no blogs, one might not be engaging in the sort of scholastic collegiality that I am convinced will be part of the future of good scholarship in a globalized environment.


  2. Hi Jason. Ah but bibliophiles will always have an ambivalent relationship to the Internet. For myself give me my leather bound George Herbert, my £2.95 Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense bought in 1976 and read repeatedly, and my novels by Chaim Potok and Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, my Second impression hardback Four Quartets, the three volume glory that is Luz on Matthew, my Denney on Romans inscribed by the man himself to Professor James Orr, my Revelations of Divine Love by Lady Julian, and around 60 metres of bookshelves populated by my share of the book equivalent of the heavenly host. The Internet is wonderful – Serious Blogs are both fun and enriching – but books aren’t transient, electronic ciphers, floating in the cybersphere like homeless keyboard strokes; there’s something more permanent and therefore more real in handling a book. As St Exupery says about something else in The Little Prince, when I care for a book I become responsible for it, so that its existence and mine are tied together in an exchange of dependence and mutuality. I know. Special pleading – but when it come to books I do special pleading with unabashed enthusiasm and an excusable deafness to the counter arguments :-))


  3. For my part I find firstly that there’s a discomfort about reading on the computer for any length of time, which is why even serious blogs tend not to get read so effectively. But the biggest problem with the Net is its distractability: you’re in the middle of reading a ‘serious blog’ and WAIT! there’s a link…have to check that out….and….several more links later you’ve lost track of what you started to read. I love the Net, but it’s my hope that books will survive this current revolution. (Considering that a fairly minor author like the one who visited Dunedin last week (and whose name has gone out of my head) can sell 17 million copies of her books in this current age, is perhaps an indication that people might just still be reading old-style…)


  4. Jason,
    Like Jim I can boast of a serious case of bibliophilia and the groaning bookshelves to prove it. My passion for mystery novels ( takes some of the rest of the time that I am not reading George Herbert, P.T. Forsyth, or Moby Dick. Nonetheless, I am not buying Hill’s thesis wholesale, and I think the bookish pedigree of both your’s and Jim’s blog commenters supports my skepticism (see my In Defense of Blogging: And what’s the deal with bloggers using their blogs to attack or apologize for blogging?


  5. As a seminary student, I have very little option but to read far more than I would like to at the moment. That severely limits my secret pleasure (reading blogs!). However, I have heard the argument before about the internet, and have heard it sense. I do think that perhaps I am less patient with my reading now than I used to be, so I can understand the argument.


  6. If I may enter one little amendment – Ms Hill was not targetting bloggers, and neither was I. Her skepticism is much more general, and her point refers to that desultory, distracted, time consuming browsing that we all recognise as both temptation and time waster. So far as blogging is concerned, I’ve defended it a few times myself, not least in the first week I started blogging when I explained my own purpose in this fun thing with the inelegant name “blogging”.

    Incidentally James K Smith on Fors Clavigera has an interesting excerpyt from a book called The Tyrranny of Email. So while I agree about all the good things the internet does, including as an educational resource, part of that education is being awake to its limitations, and the seductiveness of infinite information at the click of a mouse and the ping of a return button. Alongside the growing sense that the internet as a pervasive and socially influential medium, is the imperative to develop an ethical framework not only around its uses, but capble of assessing its impact on human development and life quality. Everydaythomist above says some very interesting and helpful things about some of this – for myself, I just thought Ms Hill made a valid point, not a metaphysical statement.


  7. I read more than I would otherwise read because of the internet. I don’t read books online but I am persuaded about what to read by discussion of books online and after having read them I find myself connected to others who have read the same books in ways I woudn’t be but for the internet. Long live the internet! Problem is there just isn’t enough time in the day.


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