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Summer Reading Program

The Glass CageAs an introduction to Benedictine University and the kinds of academic conversations in which students can expect to engage, incoming students read a book over the summer and participate in an initial discussion with instructors as part of orientation. This year, we look forward to faculty and students talking about Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage.

Carr is a visiting professor of sociology at Williams College in Massachusetts. His books have examined the neurological and psychological impacts of surfing, skimming, and scanning the internet. In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010), a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Carr meditates on theories of concentration and distraction. More recently, Carr’s The Glass Cage (2014) catalogs the benefits of computer and robot technology by reminding us of the costs: “The choices we make, or fail to make, about which tasks we hand off to computers and which we keep for ourselves are not just practical or economic choices. They’re ethical choices. They shape the substance of our lives and the place we make for ourselves in the world.” You can learn more about Carr and his research at http://www.nicholascarr.com/.

New students should answer one or more of the following questions by writing a two-page, double-spaced response paper that includes evidence from the book to be submitted for credit to Desire2Learn (D2L) by new student orientation – Ben Beginnings – on August 27th. Students should be alert to more information about paper formatting, the submission process, and virtual discussion of the summer reading through their BenU email. (Instructions to access University email are available here: http://www.ben.edu/advising-center/upload/HOW-TO-LOGIN-TO-EMAIL.pdf.)

1. Drawing from The Glass Cage, define the terms “automation complacency” and “automation bias.” How do these phenomena of complacency and bias challenge our Benedictine hallmark of Community, which makes “available to all a focus on the nature of responsible living – a focus that is enriched by local example, grounded in the wisdom of the past and refreshed by diverse experiences of other cultures”?

2. Carr argues that “Learning requires inefficiency.” What does he mean? How might your effort to learn something and develop expertise support Carr’s claim?

3. While Carr is critical of technology throughout The Glass Cage, he is optimistic in the last chapter. He writes, “The value of a well-made and well-used tool lies not only in what it produces for us but what it produces in us. At its best, technology opens fresh ground. It gives us a world that is at once more understandable to our senses and better suited to our intentions—a world in which we’re more at home.” Provide one original example of a valuable technology and describe “what it produces for us” and “what it produces in us.” Be sure to offer specific details about the technology and its function.

Students with questions about the summer reading or the assignment should feel free to contact Greg Ott at gott@ben.edu.

Dear Student:

Welcome to Benedictine University. We are all looking forward to having you join our community of learners.

The faculty have been deep in preparations for your first writing course, which introduces you to the General Education Curriculum at Benedictine University and to the course theme, “What Matters.”

The summer reading serves as an introduction to the values of Benedictine higher education. While you will practice skills of close reading and textual analysis that you began to develop in high school, you will simultaneously situate yourself in dialogue with the author and other readers of the book.

In The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr explores how our reliance on computers and technology changes who we are. He acknowledges the necessary role of technology in our lives, but maintains a critical perspective of its impact. He examines careers from architecture to health care, finance to aviation, and he notes both positive and negative impacts of technology.

The selection of this year’s summer reading is very timely given the increased influence of technology on our daily educational and social experiences. I hope you enjoy The Glass Cage!

Sincerely,

Charles W. Gregory
President, Benedictine University