My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The phrase ‘…the internet has on our brains’ reminds me of zombies. In The Shallows Nicholas Carr discusses the affect the Internet has on our brains. And he pretty much thinks we are turning into zombies.
He first pooh poohs the alarmist ideas earlier communication technology philosophers had about the debilitating effects of (in reverse chronological order) the TV, the radio, the type writer, the printing press, reading silently, the book and even writing (Those who rely on reading for their knowledge will “seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing.” They will be “filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom.”) back up to the time when men needed to remember everything to be in the know, and then comes up with an alarmist idea of his own:
“THE INTERNETZ IS EATING YOUR BRAIN!!”
Or rather, it is eating up our thought processes. Filling us with shallower knowledge. Externalizing our memories. Reducing our capacity for intelligent deduction.
“What we’re trading away in return for the riches of the Net—and only a curmudgeon would refuse to see the riches—is… “our old linear thought process.” Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind” – the Internet mind?
Now i get distracted on the internet as much as any other person. In fact i have stopped writing this review and returned to it about 3 times already. It has come to a point where i can scarecely work if im plugged into the net. Its annoying really. You know you’re not important enough to get an email every minute but you check anyway. Facebook updates aren’t going anywhere but you keep checking in some bizarre social-network OCD. The internet pickles your mind so much that you can spend an hour on it and it will feel like 15 minutes, and worse; you won’t even have achieved anything in that time. Its a black hole alright, a black hole that drags in your attention and time.
But even so, i think the notion that the Internet spells a unique death to intelligence and thought is somewhat far fetched. And may be one of Carr’s more spectacular claims. Indeed most of the evidence brought to bear on brain activity seems to indicate that the grey matter in our heads is uniquely plastic, and extremely adaptable. So who is to say it won’t eventually adapt to a world of technology and internet as well?
Parts i liked about the book
1. The heavy chit chat about the human brain, synapses, plasticity and the way it facilitates information flow. The different areas of the brain used in language and information processing.
2. The bits about memory and how its construction. Long term memory versus short term, the unique way the brain uses memory to mull over, analyze and make deductions based on knowledge (Carr says this capacity is especially threatened if we are outsourcing memory to computers). I can now confidently say a thing or two about the Hippocampus and cortices. And no the former is not a higher education institute for large bull shaped amphibians.
3. The discussion on the history of books and the advancement of the written knowledge. Basically a tale of increased knowledge with diminishing mental capacity to hold it all. Although i found his thoughts on ebooks rather speculative and alarmist again.
4. The chapter on Google. Carr inevitably paints Google as almost an arch villain to traditional intelligence, with its manic drive to compartmentalize information and feed us ‘shallow’ search paragraphs. In fact the idea for the book came from an article Carr wrote titled ‘‘Is Google Making us Stupid?‘
Carr argues that all the clutter and distraction of the internet is making it hard for us to concentrate for long enough on a single task (like reading text) for us to absorb it enough to ensure that it passes from being mere information to proper knowledge. His question is whether all the mucking about clicking links and checking mail is destroying our cognitive ability to gain knowledge.
And I agree with him. To a certain extent. I don’t think it is a social phenomena that we have to be a the mercy of though. The internet has good and bad, and if you can’t take the good and leave out the bad it reflects badly on you, and maybe you do deserve to become stupider than you are. Turn off your email, turn off your PC, go read a book. Try and read a book which disses the internet, like this one.