Book Review: The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

"Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.”

You feel it. You sense it, tugging at you right now. “Am I being entertained? How much longer do I feel like reading this? This is boring. Is there a picture or video here somewhere? What’s going on on Facebook?” When you’re on the Net, there is a constant tug at your attention. In the back of your mind you’re sure there’s something that could bring you more pleasure. The possibilities are endless, and here you sit on a lowly blog about books. All you have to do is click two buttons and you could be watching a laughing baby or seeing what 600 of your friends are doing in real time. The average reader on this site stays 94 seconds.

The Internet grabs our attention the way no other entertainment technology has before, then scatters it in a wind of hyperlinks and search boxes. The gratification of the technology is immediate and seemingly limitless. The dopamine we get when we get a message, a like, a tweet, etc. is a powerful drug, and it’s a high we aren't keen to lose. 

In the western world over the last century we have adopted technology so wholly, accepted its necessity and inevitability so completely, and created its monopoly so rapidly that we’ve had little time to contemplate the blowback—the unintended consequences of maximum connectivity.

Technology and culture writer Nicholas Carr examines these consequences in The Shallows, an utterly compelling look at an ominous phenomenon that is well underway. Yes, most scientists agree that the Web is morphing your mind. Some argue this is for the better while others, contrarians like Carr, argue for worse. 

If you’ve recently noticed you look at your smartphone rather than look friends in the face, that your memory seems to be getting frazzled, that you have more trouble reading an entire book than you used to, this may be a consequence of using the Web. Carr explains with neuroscience that without repeated use our minds begin to lose the ability to concentrate on one subject for an extended period. It's the old axiom: Use it or lose it. Pertinent, fascinating studies are used to illustrate that our abilities to digest information and process complex arguments are dwindling. 

I could say a ton about The Shallows, but I'll end with this: I listed this as the most affecting book I read in 2010. It remains that, and I’ve just had the opportunity to chew on and discuss its content with with some of my coworkers, where it sparked much introspection and debate. This book will challenge (and possibly change) the way you live.

P.S. If you want a primer check out Carr's article in The Atlantic: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"


Anonymous said...

So fascinating! I haven't read the book and I'm now tempted to, no matter the giggling baby everyone must see!

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