Information Overlord

“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.

Author: wkebbe

Reader and writer, trying to accumulate knowledge and remain curious about the unknown

7 thoughts on “Information Overlord”

  1. Will, I’m struck by your title. Do you mean overlord or overload? The more common term is overload, but Carr does indeed suggest that the internet has also become a kind of overlord of our lives. So it’s an interesting pun. ~Joe

    PS No link?

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  2. I agree with what you are saying, especially the last two paragraphs. I think the Internet is something that had caused considerable change to the way our minds and societies operate, mostly negative effects on our brains (loss of concentration, the constant need for more Internet usage). However, even a critic of these points cannot deny the incredible invention that it is and how much it has done in the progression of the human race.

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  3. I too, found the impeccable research on the brain and its neuroplasticity very intriguing. I am not a neuroscience major, but I do have a love for bio and Carr’s explanation of the neurons and action potentials brought me back to that passion. Carr, however, was only first introduced to the internet and its abilities while he was working probably in his twenties. Whereas, we (millennials) have been around such technological advances all our lives. Do you think that the impact Carr discusses may not be as large in us as it is in him?

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  4. I also connected with Carr’s discussion of the brain. As someone who is studying psychology, most don’t assume that having an English degree will be beneficial in the long run. Having all the information available is both a blessing and a course according to Carr and knowing what I know about the brain, I should to be weary of the internet. But I am not. I know the depths to which it can go, but learning how to navigate that is a skill in of itself. Growing up with this technology has allowed us millennial to understand and respect what the internet has to offer and how to balance the good and bad.

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  5. Writing about Carr, about the perils of intensified internet use, comes prepackaged with hypocrisy. No matter my stance on the subject, which usually lends itself to a more critical opinion, I have to engage with the online world in some facet, against my better judgement. Knowing the internet’s ability to alter my brain’s physiology , I will always need it in come capacity, and my writing will always be subject to others noting the necessity within me.

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  6. Hey great post! It’s crazy the psychological changes that technology has on us. I also appreciate that Carr does admit that he uses technology to fact-check and do other things even in writing his book, etc.

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  7. I liked that you connected the text to your own life, mentioning that it involves both literature and neuro-psychology. You also noticed that Carr, during this time of criticizing the web, probably used the internet for a lot of the information he used.

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