In 2008 Nicholas Carr wrote a much-talked-about article in The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” that he later expanded into the book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” Carr was inspired to ask the question after finding a noticeable change in his attention and memory, especially while reading. He felt he was always “dragging his wayward brain back to the text” and getting fidgety after a few pages.
He wondered if the prevalence of the Internet in his life was interfering with his thought patterns. Carr writes, “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, 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.”
“The Shallows” is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at the human mind in a rapidly changing age. This book explores the history of information and how we process it, giving us a look into the fields of neuroscience and cognition, and Carr writes a cohesive argument for the ways in which our brains are changing, for better or worse. “The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.”
Carr also writes from a personal standpoint, noting his own captivation with the new order. He recognizes that the “seductions of technology are hard to resist” and notes the benefits of speed and efficiency, but he also writes that it’s worth “being attentive to what we stand to lose.” In one distinct passage he writes, “In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
And, unlike the Internet, with its dependence on electricity and fiber optics, there will never be a day when someone says to you, “Sorry, the books are down.”
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on September 27th, 2018
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