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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsby Nicholas Carr
2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction Finalist
Nominated as a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, The Shallows is a fascinating look at the cultural implications and neuroscientific consequences of the Internet Age. The Internet is an unprecedented educational tool and time-saver, but to the detriment of our attention spans. Carr examines our intellectual history and illustrates how our process of thinking is once again being reshaped.
Synopses & Reviews
"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.
"The Shallows certainly isn't the first examination of this subject, but it's more lucid, concise and pertinent than similar works....An essential, accessible dispatch about how we think now." Salon
"A must-read for any desk jockey concerned about the Web's deleterious effects on the mind. Persuasive....A prolific blogger, tech pundit, and author, [Carr] cites enough academic research in The Shallows to give anyone pause about society's full embrace of the Internet as an unadulterated force for progress...Carr lays out, in engaging, accessible prose, the science that may explain these results." Business Week
"Another reason for book lovers not to throw in the towel quite yet is The Shallows...a quietly eloquent retort to those who claim that digital culture is harmless — who claim, in fact, that we're getting smarter by the minute just because we can plug in a computer and allow ourselves to get lost in the funhouse of endless hyperlinks." Chicago Tribune
"Carr provides a deep, enlightening examination of how the Internet influences the brain and its neural pathways. Carr's analysis incorporates a wealth of neuroscience and other research, as well as philosophy, science, history and cultural developments....His fantastic investigation of the effect of the Internet on our neurological selves concludes with a very humanistic petition for balancing our human and computer interactions....Highly recommended. You really should read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows...Far from offering a series of rants on the dangers of new media, Carr spends chapters walking us through a variety of historical experiments and laymen's explanations on the workings of the brain...He makes the research stand on end, punctuating it with pithy conclusions and clever phrasing." Information Week (starred review)
"This is a lovely story well told — an ode to a quieter, less frenetic time when reading was more than skimming and thought was more than mere recitation.This is a measured manifesto. Even as Carr bemoans his vanishing attention span, he's careful to note the usefulness of the Internet, which provides us with access to a near infinitude of information. We might be consigned to the intellectual shallows, but these shallows are as wide as a vast ocean." San Francisco Chronicle
"A thought-provoking exploration of the Internet's physical and cultural consequences, rendering highly technical material intelligible to the general reader." The 2011 Pulitzer Prize Committee
"The subtitle of Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains leads one to expect a polemic in the tradition of those published in the 1950s about how rock 'n' roll was corrupting the nation's youth....But this is no such book. It is a patient and rewarding popularization of some of the research being done at the frontiers of brain science....Mild-mannered, never polemical, with nothing of the Luddite about him, Carr makes his points with a lot of apt citations and wide-ranging erudition. Christopher Caldwell
"Absorbing [and] disturbing. We all joke about how the Internet is turning us, and especially our kids, into fast-twitch airheads incapable of profound cogitation. It's no joke, Mr. Carr insists, and he has me persuaded. John Horgan
This is a measured manifesto. Even as Carr bemoans his vanishing attention span, he's careful to note the usefulness of the Internet, which provides us with access to a near infinitude of information. We might be consigned to the intellectual shallows, but these shallows are as wide as a vast ocean. Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide
"The core of education is this: developing the capacity to concentrate. The fruits of this capacity we call civilization. But all that is finished, perhaps. Welcome to the shallows, where the un-educating of homo sapiens begins. Nicholas Carr does a wonderful job synthesizing the recent cognitive research. In doing so, he gently refutes the ideologists of progress, and shows what is really at stake in the daily habits of our wired lives: the re-constitution of our minds. What emerges for the reader, inexorably, is the suspicion that we have well and truly screwed ourselves. Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class As Soulcraft
"Nicholas Carr carefully examines the most important topic in contemporary culture — the mental and social transformation created by our new electronic environment. Without ever losing sight of the larger questions at stake, he calmly demolishes the clichés that have dominated discussions about the Internet. Witty, ambitious, and immensely readable, The Shallows actually manages to describe the weird, new, artificial world in which we now live. Dana Gioia, poet and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
"Ultimately, The Shallows is a book about the preservation of the human capacity for contemplation and wisdom, in an epoch where both appear increasingly threatened. Nick Carr provides a thought-provoking and intellectually courageous account of how the medium of the Internet is changing the way we think now and how future generations will or will not think. Few works could be more important." Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
“Nicholas Carr has written a Silent Spring for the literary mind.” Slate
About the Author
Nicholas Carr is the bestselling author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Big Switch, and Does IT Matter? His articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and the New Republic. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of California-Berkeley and an executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. He lives in Colorado.
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