No. 20: The Shallows
I hadn’t read Nick Carr’s Atlantic article (“Is Google Making Us Stupid”) when I picked up The Shallows, though I knew about the question. I expected one of two possible answers:
- Technological advances are neither good nor bad, but they have a message about what we find important and how we should think that we need to be aware of.
- Technology is changing us, but it’s making our brains better.
What was his answer?
As it turns out, Carr argues that intellectual technologies, particularly the computer, which are characterized by distraction (think popup windows, OS notifications, email chimes, and instant messaging…all running at once), are changing our brains, and it’s bad for us. We lose the ability to read and think deeply, as more of our brain power is given to processing new and constantly active stimuli, and we become accustomed to consuming tiny bits of info (tweets, status updates, and incredibly brief blog posts) and skimming longer pieces of writing. As a result we are no longer able to understand or produce sustained arguments or even give focused attention.
Carr spills quite a few words supporting the thesis that the internet, computers, and distraction technology do harm to our intellectual abilities, but it would be wrong to say he thinks they’re all bad. He, like Neil Postman, acknowledges that there are good and bad contributions from these technologies, but he argues that – as far as our ability to think is concerned – the bad outweighs the good.
Based on my own experiences and my interactions with other students over the last two years, I’m inclined to agree.
Carr’s writing was direct, clear, and smooth, for the most part. A fairly enjoyable reading experience.