Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Paperback price: $15.95, Hardcover Price: $26.95, Kindle $9.65, 280 pages
Author’s Website and Interviews:
Nicholas Carr’s Website: http://www.nicholascarr.com
Nicholas Carr’s Blog: http://www.roughtype.com
The New York Times-http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/books/review/Lehrer-t.html?_r=0
Annotation: There is no escape from the intellectual shallows because the Internet has taken hold of your brain and altered you forever.
Summary: From the creation of the alphabet, to Gutenberg’s printing press, to the Internet today, Carr charts an evolutionary course which transcends the human mind past the realm of intellectual engagement, connection, and community, into what he calls the “intellectual shallows.” Carr introduces us to his own struggle with distractedness and his inability to quiet his mind like he did before the onset of the Internet age. The Internet has remapped and rewired our brains in both negative and positive ways. Carr examines the relationship between human development and the technologies we have created. With each new invention such as written word, the printing press, clocks, maps, and now the Internet, humans have evolved, shaped by the very tools they have made to make their lives easier, more productive, and more connected. Carr uses scientific data such as the concept of neuroplasticity which James Olds, a professor of neuroscience at the Kraskow Institute for Advances Study, suggests that the human brain is “very plastic” and “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions” (pg. 26). Carr focuses on the impact the Internet has had on the human brain much of which can be viewed as negative. He also examines how the Internet has impacted our long and short term memory, as well as how the brain remaps and rewires itself when we surf the Web as opposed to reading book like text. The brain wave scans show that the regions of the brain for book readers show heightened activity in the region of language, memory and visual processing but limited activity in decision making and problem solving. However the brain wave scans of those surfing and reading web pages showed heightened activity in all areas. Researchers argue that Web searching is great exercise for the mind. Carr examines the rise of Google and how much of their technology has worked to reshape our minds and the way we interact with information. Carr believes that we are bonded to the technologies we create and that not only do they serve as an extension of ourselves, but us an extension of them. The book asks the question, “What has the Internet done to your brain?” and Carr’s historical, scientific, and personal evidence help to answer this difficult question and provide ways of better navigating the intellectual shallows in which most of humanity now resides.
Evaluation: After reading The Shallows, I was left both in awe and horror over how much influence the Internet has had over my ability to concentrate, contemplate, and engage with both print based and online information. Carr’s narrative prose mixed with scientific research makes for a strong argument that the Internet has in fact rewired, remapped, and reprogrammed our brains. His writing is candid and he continuously forces the reader to question how the Internet has impacted their ability to interact with the tangible world around them. I really liked that he begins to frame his argument by giving the history of major inventions that have changed the course of how humans interact with information. He presents the reader with the historical evolution of man’s interaction and dependency on things that make information, writing, and reading more accessible and efficient but at what cost? I think the power of Carr’s book lies in his ability to expose his own faults and idiosyncrasies, using them to guide his argument and expose his humanness amongst the power and influence of machines.
Appeal Factors: Thought provoking, controversial, infusing personal narrative with scientific research and chocked full of sarcasm and humor. Scientific writing, thought-provoking, and journalistic.
Read-alike Titles and Authors:
Breakpoint by Jeff Stibel
An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman
Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other by Sherry Turkle
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman
2011 Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Non-Fiction
2011 Finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award
The New York Times Best Seller
- If Carr believes the Internet is remapping and rewiring our brains, then does the technology we create control us? Our thoughts? Our actions? Our decisions?
- Link to movies such as 2001: A Space Oddessy, AI (Artificial Intelligence), & Bicentennial Man-machines become more human.
- Ask audience questions that make them question the role the Internet plays in their life. Are you a slave to the Internet? Has the Internet altered your humanness? What makes man different than a machine?
Book Discussion Questions:
1. How have “tools of the mind” which have been in a progressive state of evolution over the last few centuries, altered and reshaped the way we think and interact not only with information but with each other?
2. Is the quick, disjointed, and distracted information so readily available at the stroke of a button worth the slow demise of our ability to engage in the act of reading wholeheartedly, not distractedly and fragmented, impeded by our need to “stay connected?”
3. In your opinion, does Carr believe that the usefulness of the Internet outweighs the negative side affects? If so, why or why not?
4. Is the dependence on technology due to remapping and rewiring of the brain, or can it be seen as more of a societal construct? Why or why not?
5. Do you feel that the technologies we create cause us to loose a sense of our humanness? If so, how? Are the tools we create an extension of us, or rather we an extension of them?
6. When you look at how often you utilize the Internet, has your ability to concentrate, read, and engage with text changed? How so?
I initially picked The Shallows based solely on its title. I found the title very thought provoking and I immediately asked myself “What is the internet really doing to my brain? Has it really done anything at all? How do I know if it has? I knew it was the book for me when it got me thinking before evening reading the first page. I was drawn in by the curiosity it created and I needed to know whether my brain had been remapped, rewired, and somehow altered by the technology I utilize on a daily basis.