Book Review: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Framing
Nicholas Carr is not a brain scientist by any means. He writes this book for the populous, indicated by the word “science” printed on the upper left hand corner of the back cover, because this book would be found in the science section of a popular book store. He wrote this book because he has personally experienced the negative effects of technology. The effects Carr noticed where that he could no longer sit down to read a book and deeply understand its meaning for a long period of time this was unsettling to him. So, in order to write the book he had to retrain his brain to think deeply and for long periods of time by disconnecting himself from the technological world.
Content and Methodology
Carr introduces the negative effects of technology by explaining his experiences. The effects he experienced, he claims, were caused by the use of technology physically changing the way his brain is wired. The wiring of the brain is changed by the medium on which communication takes place. He is setting up his main argument that “a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act… if we use it enough, it changes who we are, as individuals and as a society” (page 3). Carr presents research that claims “the tools man used to support or extend his nervous system… have shaped the physical structure and workings of the human mind” (page 48). He then uses the research to assert that the use of technology is changing how the brain is wired in a negative way. The use of technology is causing individuals and society to shift away from deep intellectual thinking and reading that requires continuous, uninterrupted attention, and toward a way of thinking that is rushed and easily distracted. The main technology responsible for this shift is the internet, according to Carr.
Analysis
Carr’s claim that technology has a negative effect on individuals and society because it is changing the way brains are wired is not necessarily negative. A shift such as the one Carr talks about had happened in western culture before, a shift from orality to literacy. Carr describes the shift from orality to literacy as positive, but the brains of humans were changed during that shift as well, so what makes one negative and the other positive? Society. Society had to adapt to the shift along with individuals. However, it takes society longer to adjust to the shift than it takes individuals so at the first the shift seems negative but society will come to benefit from it in the long run. When reading was first becoming popular, it was seen as odd to read silently to oneself and even as negative, because no one benefited from slight reading. Reading started off as something to be spoken out loud for the benefit of a group and the individual and over time reading to oneself became beneficial to society for it benefited individuals. The shift from orality to literacy took centuries for society to benefit from it. This shift away from literacy is only just beginning, so it is too early see how society will benefit from this shift, thus it is too early to say this shift is negative.

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