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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsby Nicholas Carr
"Two recent books on the future of media go against the grain of their authors' professions. Nicholas Carr is a journalist who has written mostly for business and technology publications but has courageously challenged some of his readers' most cherished assumptions. In Does IT Matter? (2004), he argued that the transformative power of corporate computing is overrated. In The Shallows he goes further, questioning the faith of many computer industry leaders that the Web can enhance thinking and accelerate learning." Edward Tenner, The Wilson Quarterly (Read the entire Wilson Quarterly review)
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.
Book News Annotation:
With references to Marshall McLuhan's "the medium is the message" and supercomputer Hal losing his 'mind' in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google joins the debate over whether the Internet is altering our thought processes. Drawing on neuroscience and computer science, Carr supports the argument that digital technology is reversing the 'deepening of thought' that the printed word launched, and Kubrick's vision that humans and computers are switching roles. The provocative book includes suggested further reading. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The bestselling author of The Big Switch returns with an explosive look at technology's effect on the mind.
Finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction: "Nicholas Carr has written a for the literary mind."--Michael Agger, Finalist for the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award
"Every revolution in communication technology—from papyrus to the printing press to Twitter—is as much an opportunity to be drawn away from something as it is to be drawn toward something. And yet, as we embrace technology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what we're giving up in the process. Why would we bother to register the end of solitude, of ignorance, of lack? Why would we care that an absence had disappeared?"
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?
For future generations, it wont mean anything very obvious. They will be so immersed in online life that questions about the Internets basic purpose or meaning will vanish.
But those of us who have lived both with and without the crowded connectivity of online life have a rare opportunity. We can still recognize the difference between Before and After. We catch ourselves idly reaching for our phones at the bus stop. Or we notice how, mid-conversation, a fumbling friend dives into the perfect recall of Google.
In this eloquent and thought-provoking book, Michael Harris argues that amid all the changes were experiencing, the most interesting is the one that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That is the end of absence—the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished. Theres no true free time” when you carry a smartphone. Todays rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your own thoughts.
To understand our predicament, and what we should do about it, Harris explores this loss of lack” in chapters devoted to every corner of our lives, from sex and commerce to memory and attention span. His book is a kind of witness for the straddle generation”—a burst of empathy for those of us who suspect that our technologies use us as much as we use them.
By placing our situation in a rich historical context, Harris helps us remember which parts of that earlier world we dont want to lose forever. He urges us to look up—even briefly—from our screens. To remain awake to what came before. To again take pleasure in absence.
When online experiences dominate our lives, what gets lost?
Only one generation in history (ours) will experience life both with and without the Internet. For everyone who follows us, online life will simply be the air they breathe. Today, we revel in ubiquitous information and constant connection, rarely stopping to consider the implications for our logged-on lives. Michael Harris chronicles this massive shift, exploring what weve gained—and lost—in the bargain.
In this eloquent and thought-provoking book, Harris argues that our greatest loss has been that of absence itself—of silence, wonder, and solitude. Its a surprisingly precious commodity, and one we have less of every year.
Drawing on a vast trove of research and scores of interviews with global experts, Harris explores this loss of lack” in chapters devoted to every corner of our lives, from sex and commerce to memory and attention span. The books message is urgent: once weve lost the gift of absence, we may never remember its value.
About the Author
Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, The Big Switch, and Does IT Matter? He has written for the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Wired, and other periodicals. He lives in Colorado with his wife.
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