The Value of Low Brow

From Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, on the value of printed material that exists solely for entertainment:

Tawdry novels, quack theories, gutter journalism, propaganda, and, of course, reams of pornography poured into the marketplace and found eager buyers at every station in society. Priests and politicians began to wonder whether, as England’s first official book censor put it in 1660, “more mischief than advantage were not occasion’d to the Christian world by the Invention of Typography.” The famed Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega expressed the feelings of many a grandee when, in his 1612 play All Citizens Are Soldiers, he wrote:

So many books—so much confusion!
All Around us an ocean of print
And most of it covered in froth.

But the froth itself was vital. Far from dampening the intellectual transformation wrought by the printed book, it magnified it. By accelerating the spread of books into popular culture and making them a mainstay of leisure time, the cruder, crasser, and more trifling works also helped spread the book’s ethic of deep, attentive reading. “The same silence, solitude and contemplative attitudes associated formerly with pure spiritual devotion,” writes Eisenstein, “also accompanies the perusal of scandal sheets, ‘lewd Ballads,’ ‘merry bookes of Italie,’ and other ‘corrupted tales in Inke and Paper.'” Whether a person is immersed in a bodice ripper or a Psalter, the synaptic effects are largely the same.

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