Changing the Subject by Sven Birkerts

Changing the Subject

Trenchant, expansive essays on the cultural consequences of ongoing, all-permeating technological innovationIn 1994, Sven Birkerts published The Gutenberg Elegies, his celebrated rallying cry to resist the oncoming digital advances, especially those that might affect the way we read literature and experience art—the very cultural activities that make us human.     After two decades of rampant change, Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyd...

Details Changing the Subject

TitleChanging the Subject
Release DateOct 6th, 2015
PublisherGraywolf Press
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Science, Technology, Self Help, Art

Reviews Changing the Subject

  • Matt Keliher
    The best book I've read thus far this year. A truly beautiful book. I was enraptured from the opening page. CHANGING THE SUBJECT is a cultural critique that is masterfully assembled. It is a philosophical examination of our understanding of value and aesthetics in the digital age. As our digital advancements have accelerated at an unquestioned pace, Birkerts argues that, we have lost our most human ability to connect and engage with the material ...
  • Art
    Sven Birkerts is a good, clear thinker, which comes through these seventeen well-written expository essays. Birkerts says we are trapped inside an immense information system. But he finds comfort by remaining aware of the culture's digital immersion and by avoiding the more pernicious aspects, such as preferences determined by algorithms. A two hundred fifty page book usually takes a few days. But the thought-provoking essays here led to many unf...
  • Juli
    I almost bailed on this book after the first few essays, which didn't grab me. So glad I pushed on. I loved all the essays with "reading" in the title and three others: "It Wants to Find You" (maybe my favorite; I want to copy and share it with a few family members), "The Salieri Syndrome: Envy and Achievement" (on artistic envy), and "Idleness" (I want to contact the author to ask if he has considered the connection with Sabbath time). I felt my...
  • sara
    Really really close to 5 stars! I would probably give this book around 4.7, 4.8 stars! I have found one of my new favorite non-fiction books! This book will be in my mind for the longest time. I choose to read this book for an assignment for my Public Speaking class and am glad that I picked it up, reading through it long after the assignment was over. This is not a book that I would have picked up if not for my assignment, but one that will stan...
  • Geoff Wyss
    Earnest, well-meaning. Also plodding and repetitive and afraid to assert anything. The opening essay (which says, basically, “The world is now digital; probably that affects the way we read and write”) appears to be setting up general terms that the later essays will investigate, but the remaining essays rarely move beyond generalities. The book feels like what it is: a collecting of essays previously published in journals and magazines, essa...
  • Dpdwyer
    These essays, collected from a variety of sources, didn't necessarily have a strong affinity with each other. The discussions on technology and what it's doing to human attention were the strongest. Sample quote: "Sometimes it seems that nothing marks our cultural viability, or lack thereof, more visibly than the vintage of our phone and computer. To carry an underperforming device---one that cannot (heavens!) access the Internet or send photo fi...
  • corky
    An eloquent look at how the digital age affects reading habits and ultimately, kills the restorative/inspiring nature of material culture (novels, letters, bookshelves, record store shopping).Rather than simply demonize technology, Birkerts exalts the culture/human nature that is overshadowed by the "unprecedented explosion of data."
    Interesting & thought provoking. Sven is, despite repeated claims to the contrary, a Luddite.
  • Christine Edwards
    I was surprised to find so much academic jargon in a bookstore purchase. I was initially intrigued by the subtitle, which on my copy is "art and attention in the internet age. " I think the "self-mediated" subtitle is a more accurate description.Not only did I find his use of 'intellectual' language unnecessary (and this coming from a university researcher), but I was frustrated by the repeated use of topics and phrases in individual essays. I un...
  • Terry
    I wanted The Gutenberg Elegies part 2, but this collection of essays is not that for me. I simply could not connect with many of the topics. I am sure much of the fault lies with me - just as I do not tolerate collections of short stories well, I find that it is a very rare collection of essays that captures me. Perhaps it was worth the time for two lengthy passages that I have included in my stash of writing I want to refer to.
  • Mary
    The subtitle of this book is “art and attention in the internet age”. But, it seems to be a selection of ruminations on how technology is a threat to the imagination. This may very well be true, but I see little evidence in this book beyond personal interpretation and literary references to support it. And, given all the references throughout, one would hope for, at the least, a bibliography, but no.
  • Denise
    This was not an easy read. I found it to be the longest short book ever. Sven does make some excellent points though, and is able to express in words things that are almost impossible to express in words.This is one of my favorite sentences, and for me, sums up the book: "The world may be our oyster, but it is a farm-raised creature, not an essence drawn up from the seabed."
  • Tina
    I have been reading Sven Birkerts for almost 25 years, and re-read the Gutenberg Elegies every few years just to reflect and figure out "how did we get here?" He challenges the intellect, but also our cultural beliefs, and even (whether he intends to or not) our spiritual selves. I would love to hang out with him for a weekend and pick his brain.
  • Fuwad Abrar
    Fantastic book. Amazed just how true it is and how it can effect so many people.
  • Vanessa Princessa
    I read this book thanks to the app Blinkist.The key message in this book:Our involvement with apps and the internet is stronger than ever. We check our email the moment we wake up and stay glued to our screens until we fall asleep. And our constant urge to be digitally connected is diminishing our experiences and deteriorating our ability to focus.
  • Victoria Chuburkova
    The book opens a different perspective on era which we live in. Sven Birkets points out that we are experiencing an immersive transformation of our life routines nowadays and an unnoticeable shift of personal identity toward collective mindset because of massive electronic data and gadget usage. Mostly I disagree with author's ideas, because tech change and its influences on our lives are naturally occurring, unstoppable processes of human develo...
  • Chris Lazinsky
    Well, I really had no choice but to read this book. I don't own a cell phone, this site is the closest I come to interacting with social media (notice the grand total of two people I have on my friends list), and I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Birkerts that we are all way to saturated with all of this for our own good. It's inescapable, but that's no excuse to drown in it.I recommend you put down the phone you are using to read this and get a co...
  • Tracy Marks
    Raised important issues about the negative effects of technology and electronic connection, and what we lose in term of f2f dialogue and sustained attention. I just wish the author had addressed those of us who use computers and the Internet constructively - taking courses, leading book discussions, doing research for our writing etc. - and who aren't wasting hours collecting "friends" on Facebook. Even if we're constructive and productive, facet...
  • Mark Katzman
    Read this book to open your mind to inwardness as antidote to the noise of digital culture overtaking us. A deep reflection on how the digital onslaught is engulfing us and the beauty of the contemplative to counteract our neural modification. A call for continued immersion in the word by reading and conversation and how the sheer attention of the natural world is always available."We are less and less experiencing ourselves individually or with ...
  • Grace
    Interesting set of essays about how we pay attention to art in the digital age. It's thought provoking, and he has some useful insights. I felt, nonetheless, that his mourning was for something that very few people would have experienced, and did not connect with what so many more people of all classes and education now have at their fingertips. He didn't claim to be speaking for a broader class, but it undermined some of his points (for me, at l...
  • Michael
    I am glad I read this book. It is a philosophical look at literature and life in this modern, digital age. The author writes about the metaphysics of reading, paying attention to, and responding to the particular world in which we live in. I found myself engaged though sometimes it felt like it moved awfully slowly. It made me think about my way of being in the world and how I am being shaped and formed by the world around me.
  • Edward Sullivan
    Like Birkerts, I also refuse to own a smart phone (or any mobile phone) so it seems only natural I'd find appealing this collection of previously published essays posing provocative questions and critiques about how the digital age has impacted aesthetic values, interpersonal communication, and comprehension and understanding.
  • E. Race
    A beautifully written and thoughtfully compelling argument that the internet and ubiquity of modern technology is, quite literally, driving us to distraction.
  • Laura
    This book made me slow down, think, and really look at things. I couldn't give it any higher praise.
  • Erik Tanouye
    This book is a bowl full of winter turds.
  • Hora
    The subtitle of the copy I own is the much more interesting Art and Attention in the Internet Age.
  • Lanie Tankard
    Here's my review: