The Owl Has Flown Response Essay
In Sven Birkerts writing, “The Owl Has Flown,” Birkerts puts forth something to think about for any modern day reader. Birkerts believes that over the years the methodology of reading has changed as the technology has advanced. In the older days, people had small amounts of texts to choose from, but read them more thoroughly, and gained in depth knowledge about each book. In this day and age, the scope of reading has broadened but at the same time become shallower.
He believes that we now read large amounts of materials, divulging ourselves into all sorts of different subject matter, but that we merely skim across its surface gaining no knowledge. In his opinion we have gone from vertical to horizontal depth. He deems an increase in the availability of reading materials the source of this change. Through the aforementioned essay, Birkerts successfully paints his argument and shows the power that can be gained from reading deeply and critically.
He effectively depicts the changes made within our brains and habits as life around us changes in the literary world, and uses a steadfast argument to prove the negative effects of the loss of deep reading. (Birkerts) Birkerts uses the terms “vertical consciousness” and “horizontal consciousness”. (Birkerts) He provides his rendition of a definition for both. In his opinion, vertical consciousness is the awareness one gains when they thinks deeply on a specific field of knowledge and then becomes well versed and acquire extensive insight on said subject.
Horizontal consciousness, on the other hand, is when an individual reads a large variety of subjects but has no deep insight on any particular subject. He strongly favors vertical awareness and urges us that we are losing it. I too believe that the ability to gain vertical awareness is slowly disappearing, as shown not only by Birkerts’ “The Owl Has Flown,” but in many other examples, both from the real world and from other writings. As the world’s technology advanced people gained access to a multitude of writings they previously would not have and at the same time many new texts have been developed.
In his writing, Birkerts gives evidence to back up his claim, he puts for the new develops in the media, radios, internet, and television for example, allowing people to know what is going on all over the world. Each individual in our society i now overloaded with little pieces of information all around them throughout each day. In a way this is good, because it allows us to be aware of things all around the world, but what’s bad is that it doesn’t give us enough time to really take it in.
Therefore, as Birkerts points out, it removes the likelihood that many will truly devote time or energy into any one subject or event to gain a real mental understanding. Nicholas Carr wrote an article entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? ” in which he takes Birkerts’ claim and applies it to the Internet. From his own personal experience as well as what he gained from other, as he calls, “voracious readers” he puts forth further evidence of our digressing mental prowess. Carr) He states that as his activities on the web, especially reading text or articles from online establishments expands he finds himself not only having a harder time coming up with the energy to read, but also having a harder time simply taking in and comprehending what he is reading. Carr acknowledges that many good things have come out of our technological advances, and was quick to show that there were many full supporters of our culture’s dependence on things like the internet. “‘The perfect recall of a silicon memory,’ Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, ‘can be an enormous boon to thinking. ” But he also was quick to mention that, “that boon comes with a price. ” Carr believes that because the media are the ones who “supply the stuff of thought,” then, “they also shape the process of thought. ” This is indeed a dangerous thing. When someone else is able to give us all of our information then they can control how we react to it. Any objective event can be turned a certain way, made to blame a certain individual or group, made negative or positive, if it is worded in a biased way.
Thinking deeply about something is how we are able to see what our personal view point on it. If we are only skimming over something that has already been shaped a certain way then we don’t need to think critically, the opinions are made for us. And I’m sure of the fact that thinking critically is an ability where the old saying, “if you don’t use it, you lose it,” certainly does hold true. Carr went on to say, “what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.
My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. ” (Carr) This visual painted by Carr gives us the perfect metaphor to assist in Birkerts’ argument. Carr’s article basically illustrates Birkerts’ point that mankind is slowly losing is ability to comprehend what it is reading after gaining such increased pool to choose from.
We are constantly reading tiny tidbits of information, our friend’s status updates on Facebook or some celebrity’s tweets on Twitter, information that has to be fewer than one hundred and forty characters. No wonder so many people can’t sit through a book when they’re so used to having all of the information they feel they need on any given subject be less than an average paragraph’s length. Another way we can look at this is through some solid facts about our culture that coincide with Birkerts’ proposed point of view.
According to research done by Gretchen B. LeFever and Andrea P. Arcona, there was a “700% increase in psychostimulant use,” during the 1990’s. (LeFever) Their research specifically shows the overabundance ADD and ADHD medication that has been prescribed, Ritalin and Adderall for example. It is no coincidence that the 1990’s also showed an incredibly steep incline in United States’ citizens who had personal use computers. In 1989 only fifteen percent of Americans had computers in their homes, which increased to fifty-one percent by the year 2000. Newburger) Lefever and Arcona propose that the increase is due to a false diagnosis. This could show that doctor’s and pediatricians are mistaking the side effects of the technological advancement on our culture as an actual disease. Many, like Berkerts and Carr would stand up and say that it is, in fact, a disease. If a person wishes to be up to date on what is going on the world around them, in all facets and walks of life, then they must spend a considerable portion of time merely skimming the water of each pool of knowledge, never having the time to truly sink their feet in.
This correlates directly back to the massively increased availability of information and writings, whose shoulders Birkerts puts the blame of our loss upon. Nicholas Carr cites a study done on the “behavior of visitors to two popular research sites” which gives its users an even larger degree of online texts. “They found that people using the sites exhibited ‘a form of skimming activity,’ hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. ” (Carr) This alone shows that the users were not really diving deep into what they were reading.
Carr goes on to say, “The authors of the study report: ‘It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense”’(Carr). So a new “form” of reading has developed. I do not believe this “power reading” can stand up to actually diving deep into a text and learning every little bit you can, and I don’t think Birkerts or Carr believe it I either.
The study only goes to show that Birkerts’ nightmare is becoming a reality. Birkerts arguments are sound, and his fight for the revival of critical reading is most definitely a fight worth fighting, but I strongly believe his viewpoint is much too narrow. I am able to find deeper meaning and, “resonance,” as he puts it, in many places that would not necessarily line up with his listed “oases”. (Birkerts) Two of the major places he claims still allow for resonance are church and therapy. Birkerts) I believe he lists church because so many people still read the Bible countless times and read it in a critical way trying to understand each and every aspect of it. He says the reason he lists therapy is because that is the only place here people actually sit and let their problems, thoughts, concerns, and just general curiosities out and give themselves (and their therapists) enough time to really mull them over. It should be noted that he says this is only true because it is a backlash to how we feel everywhere else, which he blames on the advancement of technology. Birkerts) I have attended therapy, one of the places he claims resonance is still possible, and I found myself sitting there quietly, not saying anything. Resonance was not achieved because there was nothing to resonate upon. And I myself thoroughly enjoy church, another one of his oases, but I do not believe it is safe from the decay of wisdom. I see people every day in church who know little to nothing of the Good Book. Just because they’ve read it, read it again, and memorized it, doesn’t mean they’ve thought critically about it.
The owl of wisdom, in my opinion, is not safe to roost anywhere. I am capable of experience what he describes as resonance, or at least, the feeling I believe he is describing. I gain this by detaching myself from the world around me (especially that world that is the worldwide web) and sinking into a good book. The point I’m trying to make is that yes, these oases work for some, but for others they most likely wouldn’t even catch the individual’s eye for a moment. Every different person has a different realm of oases.
In his mourning of the loss of the habit of reading deeply he does not seem to acknowledge how amazing it that we have gained such an array of subjects to choose from. He is right that people as a species are much less attentive and reflective than we once were. But this does not mean that we have loss these capabilities for ever. I believe that every individual human being could sit down, focus, and fall into the pages of a book if they were able to find the subject matter that really spoke to them. Birkerts argues very successfully on the topic of the how reading habits have changed throughout modern times.
I personally believe he fails to see the true benefits that these changes hold, but he does give an amazingly thorough and convincing argument as to the negative effects. I completely see where he is coming from, and agree wholeheartedly, but I also recognize and appreciate the benefits we have gained through our growing horizontal knowledge. I believe that neither linear model for knowledge, horizontal or vertical, give us a well-rounded scope. My life would be horrible if I could never deeply read a book, but it would also suffer if I only had a few books to choose from.
I think the notion that either linear motion is better at achieving depth is quite humorous in and of itself. It is impossible to have depth in a two dimensional world, something must be three dimensional for that to occur. And it takes both the horizontal and the vertical to give something a third dimension. In the world of art depth is created when one is able to view both the width and the height of an object, and in the world of knowledge depth is created when one is able to look at things through both the horizontal and the vertical methods of logic.
Works Cited Birkerts, Sven. “The Owl Has Flown”. Think Vertically! Ed. Whatcom Community College English Faculty. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead press, 2010. 31-39. Print. Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid? ” The Atlantic. 302. 1 (2008): 56-61. Proquest. Web. 6 Oct. 2010. LeFever, Gretchen B. , and Andrea P. Acona. “ADHD among American Schoolchildren. ” Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Web. 22 Jan. 2012. . Newburger, Eric C. “Home Computers and Internet Use in the United States: August 2000. ” Www. census. gov. Web. 22 Jan. 2012.