The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains” is a warning cry that, to put it crassly, “we are training our brains to pay attention to crap.”
Carr’s premise is that internet use is moving us into a new way of interacting with the world “the dissolution of the linear mind.”
You’ve heard it said, “The Medium is the message” but, per Carr the medium also shapes the messenger. Our brains understand tools to be appendages and re-write themselves to take those new appendages into account. For example, our brain sees a rake as an extension of our hand. What, he asks, happens when the tool is the world wide web?
You see, this re-writing takes a very short amount of time. 5 hours of internet use will permanently rewire a non-internet user’s brain. What does this re-wiring do? It trains our brains to always look for the new, overvaluing what is happening right now, constantly in need of new stimulation. So, if you have noticed you can’t remember things any more or pay attention to any one thing or are anxious when you aren’t being fed new information… that might be because you’ve re-wired your brain to function that way. Some argue the sheer amount of information we ingest through the internet makes up for this shortened attention span and other symptoms, but truth be told we retain content from the internet as well as we do while reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle at the same time… that is, not well at all.
Between 2004-2008 Read of books has fallen by 11%, 29% for the under 35 crowd. The average person now spends 2.5 hours a day on the web and 5 hours a day on the TV… this might shape our whole society, hyper-focusing us on any new bit of information at the expense of its context, or the recent past.
Why would we allow this to happen, you may ask? Because tech companies can make a pretty penny on it. Google’s profits are directly tied to rapidity of information intake. “Google wants information to be free, because as the cost of information falls, we all spend more time looking at computer screens and tech companies profit.”
The Shallows seems a bit alarmist, that said we have elected a man who swims in the stream of the moment and hijacks the national discourse by simply saying something new—the first Twitter President. Maybe Donald Trump is what Google hath wrought.
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