You will have probably noticed that, while it is still Thursday, that it definitely is not 10:00 AM. Regardless, I remain dedicated to the assignment at hand. And quite frankly, I blame the Internet. And myself. Mainly myself, though.
Nicolas Carr’s The Shallows, as we are all more than well aware (hopefully), tells the not-so-fictional tale of how the new age of the Internet has affected our minds for better or for worse. While I have admittedly not been reading as much as I should be, I can’t help but feel that from what I’ve read that this behavior has become inevitable for me. The internet has become a super-library of information hurled at us in big sweeping waves of key points and rapid-fire access. Information that we would have once had to have scoured through books and other related media can now be accessed in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Not only that, but the method of information sharing that has become popular on the internet has taken on a much shorter format with essential and pertinent information given to us in the titles and paraphrased in the articles. With such a drastic change of timing, this new method of research definitely has helped millions, if not billions, access more information far more quickly than before. But as Carr emphasizes, it comes with a price.
Even as I was reading The Shallows, I found myself getting exasperated and tired reading through each page, constantly thinking there are much better things I could be doing with my time. Yet at the same time, I became self-aware and almost guilt-ridden as Carr eloquently stated what has happened to our minds and describing almost exactly what I was thinking and feeling. It almost makes the book feel self-aware (even though it’s really just you becoming self-aware and not willing to accept that you’re the one making mistakes) when Carr describes how some would rather take “a minute or two to cherry pick the pertinent passages using Google Book Search” when you simultaneously “[don’t] see any reason to plow through chapters of text” (8). The appeal of audiobooks in recent time has boomed partially in response to our changing psyche. We have reached a point in society where some people can’t be arsed to read anything themselves anymore and would rather pay for someone else to read to them, just so they could still go about doing “the more important”things in life at the same time.
After reading up to chapter seven in Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”, I am intrigued by and have begun to ponder several of his arguments regarding how the internet is changing the way that we think. In general, Carr claims that throughout oral and written history, the human brain has changed in accordance with the dominant means of communication in a given time period. Most importantly, our brains are doing the same thing now as we begin to make the internet our primary medium for reading and communicating. However, when it comes to the internet, Carr doesn’t think that the brain’s inclination towards plasticity has had a positive impact on us. Instead, he feels that the brain’s acclimation to the digital age has had a detrimental effect on our attention spans. From the outset of the book, he makes this point clear, stating “And what the net is doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” (Carr 6). Moreover, Carr feels that this same phenomenon has affected others in his generation as well as those who have grown up with the internet. Referring to the latter age cohort, Joe O’Shea, cited in the book, states “They don’t necessarily read a page from left to right and top to bottom. They might instead skip around, scanning for pertinent information of interest” (Carr 9).
I was specifically struck by the claim that many people my age read differently, and in a sense, incompletely. This is not something I had ever thought about or dwelled on until reading “The Shallows”. As someone who is forced to utilize both printed and online resources for school, it is important that I am able to absorb and retain information regardless of where it’s located. On the one hand, I understand where Carr is coming from because when I am reading news articles online, I occasionally tend to skip around the article to get to the main point that the headline was referring to. However, I usually do this skimming or skipping intentionally. Furthermore, when it comes to articles or important reading material for school, whether it is printed on paper or online, I take great care to read closely and make sure I am receptive to the information presented to me. I will say, though, there are times where I have trouble concentrating on what I read in a textbook for class, regardless of attempting to do a close read. I usually attribute this lack of concentration to the material, however, and not to any cognitive inability.
This topic has sparked much debate in the psychology and education fields. In this article from The Guardian, author Duncan Jeffries also uses Carr’s argument to investigate how others feel regarding the web and its impacts on concentration. I was surprised to read that a Pew Research survey found that while 77% of teachers feel that the internet has positive effects on students’ overall research, 87% of those same teachers feel that the internet is leading to shortened attention spans. In this sense, there is mixed opinion as to whether the internet has a positive or negative influence on our brains.