The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

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W. W. Norton & Company, Jun 6, 2011 - Science - 256 pages
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Finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction: “Nicholas Carr has written a Silent Spring for the literary mind.”—Michael Agger, Slate

“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly 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 the 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 an 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. Its 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.

Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

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Claudine Cazeau
John Killoran
English 16
In class essay #5-2
In the book The Shallows, Carr uses scientific studies and experiments as evidence to prove his arguments in most of the chapters, which is how technology affecting the society but sometimes not all scientific evidence can prove such hypothesis. Carr uses scientific experiment such as survey that scientist use to get other people’s point of view on this topic. Some other experiments were having people to volunteer to see how they brain react to the use of technology and no technology. The three chapters that I choose which are “The juggler’s brain (139)”, “The very image of a book (103)” and “The church of Google (151)”, shows several studies and experiments that was conducted and these studies back up Carr’s claim about using the internet.
In chapter 7 “The juggler’s brain”(139), one of the experiment Carr used was a survey that was conducted by Liu, a library science professor at San Jose State University in 2003, with 113 well-educating people in every area of study to evaluate how their reading habit had changed over the preceding ten years. The survey shows that eighty-five percent reported they were spending more time browsing and scanning and eighty-two percent reported that they were doing non-linear reading, and only twenty-seven percent said they were devoted to in depth reading. The internet is like a force and its pulling people towards and the more people use it the more vulnerable they become to it and it became harder for people to study or read a book without reading it over the net. Carr used that study to support his argument.
In another chapter in The Shallows “The very image of a book”(103), Carr used evidence where Christine Rosen, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC, wrote about her experience using a kindle to read the Dickens Novel written by Nicholas Nickleby. As soon as she started reading in the kindle she got distracted because she went on Wikipedia to look up Dickens, the title of the book she’s reading, she said after 20 minute being on the net she didn’t have the thought to return to her reading in the kindle. This study show that even the greatest reader can get distracted by the net no matter how interesting the book is.
Carr's arguments rely on scientific evidence in several chapter in the book The Shallows. Last but not least, in chapter “The church of Google (151)” Carr referred to Google as a church mostly because you can find anybody in church and when you go on Google you will find a millions answer to one search. Carr also uses a research that Google conducted in 2009 for eye tracking and psychological studies to know how users are using their web engine and how it react to them. According to Irene Au, the company’s director, she claims that Google use cognitive psychology research which is using our attention, memory, perception, problem solving and thinking to make people use their computers more often. Google conducted several study to know how they could get people to spend more in the internet and that’s how the Internet influences the brain and its neural pathways.



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About the author (2011)

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and The Glass Cage, among other books. Former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, he has written for The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Wired. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

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