The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains — Nicholas Carr

Date Read: April 3, 2019
Published: 2010
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc
Pages: 224


“Is Google making us stupid?”

When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through centuries by “tools of the mind” –from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer–Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries and intellectual ethic–a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. It’s ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption–and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

Review (4 Stars):

I picked up a copy of this book from the library after hearing Philip DeFranco mention it in one of his daily YouTube shows and how he has cut back on social media because of it.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by it. We’ve all debated on the idea of whether or not we spend too much time on the Internet and how much of a disconnect we’ve become because of it, but Carr as taken media of all shapes and sizes from the beginning of human history and shown us how it has affected us as humans. How writing has affected our oration skills, how books have taken away our memories, and even more recently, how the Internet has taken away our ability to read and think deeply.

It’s one thing to talk about what the Internet is doing to our brains, it’s another thing to have science back it up. There’s been a study done where people who read physical books were able to retain the information they read more than those who read books online with hypertext. The Internet has taught us how to skim and jump to the information we’re looking for, but it’s taken away our ability to read more deeply on the subject and think on it instead of being distracted by other bits of information.

I’m not one to read deep scientific books on society and technology, so this one dragged a bit for me in parts. Of course, this is probably proving Carr’s point in not reading and thinking deeply on his book. My brain has been trained to jump around the Internet and I didn’t even realize it.

However, it made me take a look at how I spend my time, both on the Internet and off it. It made me realize that I want to focus on the things I love like reading and hiking and photography, spending time with my boyfriend and family rather than getting lost in the web. The Internet is good, but connection to the real world is even better.

*cover image taken from Amazon.

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