It was glorious weather for April last weekend when I was down on the south coast in East Sussex. I spent a couple of hours on the beach reading about reading, and finding myself feeling a little uncomfortable with the realisation that my own ability to ‘go deep’ into a book has been compromised in the way Birkerts describes. The acceleration to my own fractured attention, even when I am offline, correlates to the moment I invited an iPhone into my life last summer. The ambivalence I feel toward this device that is now barely ever out of my sight, hearing, or hand often gives me a headache, often elicits a groan of self-reproval. My preferred writing technology is the typewriter, & my preferrence is to read on paper. I struggle now to achieve this as if it were a challenge and not second nature, and I hate to admit it. But I do see how this little device has changed me, and I don’t want this modification, as Birkerts says in his book.
Thanks to Richard Polt for bringing Sven Birkerts to my attention via The Gutenberg Elegies, another deeply fascinating and insightful book.