“The Net has become my all purpose medium… The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich and easily searched store of data are many…” (6)
In praise of what the internet has afforded him, Nicholas Carr can’t be too cynical when dissecting the flaws of our internet culture. Not without some self-examination, at least. The author of The Shallows set out to define one our generation’s most pressing issues in regard to the advent of this incredible technology: How our relationship with the internet is affecting us, and how the interlocking of our lives with this extraordinary access has radically shifted the human brain’s cognitive functioning.
But as he notes early in his book, Carr understands the privilege he and many others have received thanks to this immense amount of data. It is precisely how a lot of the information in the book was researched and fact-checked. Whether this truth is discernible to both Carr and the reader is menial, irrespective of the tale being told. The fact of the matter is that when you write a book about the harms of the internet and the kaleidoscopic access we have to quick snit bits of information, you end up relying on that very system you paint with caution.
So with a candid admission of his reliance, Carr then moves forward to surmise that our intake of information has always been under scrutiny. Using examples from the time of Aristotle and Plato, Carr displays the discussions of previous generations and how they might not be so different than the ones we have today. Plato’s disagreement with Socrates over the aptitude of an orator’s mind exemplifies the historical bouts between those who saw both advantages and flaws in information dissemination. In the same way that Plato argues that the writer’s mind presents the strengthening of the mind’s “logical , rigorous, [and] self reliant” facilities, we too discuss the ramifications of the internet’s affect on our mind’s mental capacities.
What hasn’t been overlooked in Carr’s tale – an aspect I find correctly prurient to any conversation we have about the internet’s range of influence – is how the neuroplasticity of the brain is altered when internet use becomes a pervasive aspect of our lives. Many report an inability to hold concentration, a loss of their patience with reading long passages, and other cognitive shortfalls, stemming from the ping-pong-like mannerisms of the internet. This, in return, fundamentally restructures the brain’s neural pathways in ways that seldom represent a positive alteration. My respect is paid to Carr for this inclusion of information, for I am student of both the literature and nueropsychological disciplines. In reading this book, I find myself in a constant state of admiration over the excellent control of language and the detailed cataloging of relevant research on the brain.
It is with great fear, sprinkled with hints of awe, that while I read this, I find myself fitting the mold of someone who should worry about their internet use and the subsequent underpinnings of such use. These worries are not exclusive to me, and I fear that while we all revel in the connectedness of our world, we may begin to forget the importance of turning away from our blue-lit screens.