Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows is, ultimately, Carr sharing a well worded warning due to his fear of what humanity is to become if we are to stay on the path we currently travel as a species. He fears that mankind is to become so dependent upon the technology that is provided to us via the Internet that it shall come to a point where, as he said, our “…’human elements’ are outmoded and dispensable.” This fear, as evidence of Carr’s entire book, is warranted due to the evidence he presents. Yet, Carr does not really present a proposed solution to this fear of his; he makes it clear that he understands that the benefits seemingly outweigh the negatives, and then does not really say what we can do to avoid this science fiction-like demise. I feel that had Carr taken a bit of a broader look at history in perspective to the issue he wrote about, he would see historically there is an answer that is tried and true. Moderation in advancement. Throughout all of modern history man has made strides within the realm of technology, and within each of these eras the most miraculous of these advancements were looked upon as a possible danger; traditionally what one does not understand must be feared. When antibiotics were first introduced it many were skeptical of ingesting some concoction drummed up in a lab that would miraculously eliminate sickness. Should we then take these pills whenever we feel something wrong with us? Additionally many feared the radio when it first gained popularity in the early 20th century, as it was inane to think a person miles away could be heard in your own home. And what else could be possible as a result of such technology, could they unbeknownst to us allow others to hear us too? Will this advancement eliminate the need for the printed word now that we can hear news and stories at any time any place? These technological and societal advancements, just like the Internet today, do provide more questions and unknown fears than straight up answers. Yet how were these fears and questions quelled? Through moderation of these advancements and by not relying completely upon them. We now know that antibiotics and radio, while perhaps worrisome at first, ended up being significantly beneficial. The fears associated with the radio and the medication, while warranted at the time, ultimately were handled by moderate use of both. The radio did not take over society; it did not become the only form of communication. Antibiotics like penicillin were not this inexplicable cure-all that could be taken at anytime for everything. The same can be said for the 21st century with the Internet, it does not have to turn us into robots that no longer have any ‘human elements’. If we as Internet users use the source in moderation and understand it, we will be fine. Not relying on the Internet for all information and for all communication and entertainment while also understanding its benefits to us as a race will result in a safe and secure future. For the rest of human existence miraculous inventions will be created and people will fear what they may become or what they may lead to; this is expected. However, when we take a step back, look at what is before us and figure out the proper way to utilize and handle this new advancement, our society will not collapse, just as it hasn’t for generations past when they came across a technology we now look at as benign and common place.
Technogical should be a little easier to understand than this.
Through reading the first six chapters of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I have gained a new perspective on what the media is doing to society now, and even what it did when technology was first evolving. I feel that what is being discussed in the first chapter is extremely relevant to my life, and the life that most students live today. Carr acknowledges the opinion of Karp, a well-educated man who has a passion for writing, regarding technology and how it is impacting our minds. Carr tells us that “Karp has come to believe that reading lots of short, linked snippets online is a more efficient way to expand his mind than reading ‘250-page books’, though, he says, ‘we can’t yet recognize the superiority of this networked thinking process because we’re measuring it against our old linear thought process’” (Car 8). Reading text online of all different sorts has become a part of our daily lives. Using the internet teaches us new ways of thinking and learning each time we explore something new online.
Everything we do has transformed into a shortened version and our minds have been forced to adapt to this. For example, any post on Twitter can be no more than forty words, meaning posts for this class have to be abbreviated or made into a significantly shorter phrase than an idea may have started out as. For people who have grown up using these methods of technology and have not had to watch society change completely with the growth of technology, there is not as much to get used to because we don’t have an old thought process to measure against, like Karp described in the text.
There are now so many benefits of reading entire books online or through an electronic tool. I read an article online about the benefits of eBooks, which also instantly directed me to further articles just like what was mentioned in The Shallows. For those who are trying to help the environment, that is a huge way to make an impact by putting a stop to purchasing printed books. But from the standpoint of someone who genuinely just wants to grow as a reader, an eBook allows you to look more in depth at certain aspects of the text and often times you can look up a particular word that you are unsure about. Since an eBook has a direct correspondence to the internet, there are always ways to gain more information on a topic or sentence you are reading about.
The beginning chapters of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr address the argument that the brain has been changed by technology. I don’t agree with Carr in the sense that technology has fundamentally changed our brains, but instead changed how we have to use our brains. A quote that really stood out to me in the first six chapters was: “The history of language is also a history of the mind”(Carr 51). Before the internet was a prominent part of society, how people used their minds was much different than today. I believe that the way we think and use our brains has evolved over time.
As technology has continued to revolutionize, so has the way our minds work. The language we use has also evolved with technology, and therefore, the language we use evolves with our mind. Carr explains how reading long books has become harder and harder with the development of platforms that allow you to connect to information much faster. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have altered our language. Words have become abbreviated and condensed in order to fit full thoughts into 140 characters. I personally find myself using slang that was born on social media platforms in conversations. Words like “yolo” have become an official word in the dictionary, and we need to adjust to the way language is evolving.
Going back to an article that was shared on Twitter, emoji’s have become a common aspect of our online language and often blur the lines of what we are trying to communicate. Speaking to each other through pictures is another advancement that our language has made, and our minds had to learn how to perceive and hold a conversation using those images. Language has grown tremendously from having no spaces between words to using images of smiley faces and vegetables to talk to each other. I believe while our brains are fundamentally the same, we use our minds in a different way in order to use today’s language to communicate. On the other hand, the new language has come with consequences like emphasizing the generation gap. The article linked earlier shows how an older generation can misinterpret language predominately used in texting and social media platforms. In order to seamlessly communicate with each other, every generation must conform their minds to the evolution of language and technology.
There is a certain example that Carr illustrates in his book that has sincerely grabbed my attention concerning the experiments done by Michael Merzenich on a group of monkeys. The discovery of the brains plasticity not even one hundred years ago has awakened an idea that Carr presents in his book that the brain is malleable and subject to change based on a constant feed of certain information. I find this incredibly fascinating when thinking about how much we have adapted and changed over time. With the aid of technology advancing rapidly within our lifetimes we have reached a point where we, as a generation, behave entirely different in many ways from the previous one, where that wasn’t nearly the case a century ago.
There is a passage on page 29 I find particularly interesting where, following his example of Merzenich and the monkey’s, Carr states: “The brain is not the machine we once thought it to be. Though different regions are associated with different mental functions, the cellular components do not form permanent structures or play rigid roles. They’re flexible. They change with experience, circumstance, and need”. As Carr continues forward on this thought, how certain areas of the brain can increase or decrease in size depending on specific constant uses of things such as instruments, I can’t help but think to the future. Though throughout this book we see comparisons between how the author used to behave as a reader/writer compared to now with the modern day technologies, there is a constant comparison between the present and the past but less of a look towards the future. As our dependency on these advancements of today continue to separate us from the archaic techniques of yesterday, what lies ahead as these technologies continue to advance?
This plasticity of the mind that allows us to adapt our brains can also be a potential hindrance in the way of forming bad habits. With debates already raging over the usefulness vs. harmfulness of computers, phones, etc. pertaining to our lifestyle changes and their effects over us, how will our habits continue to either deteriorate or evolve as these technologies become more and more advanced? Even 50 years ago, few people would have believed that within their lifetimes such a thing as “Virtual Reality” could be a possibility, this Time article discusses the rise and continual surge of VR technology, how it is opening up new possibilities in our technological world. In another 50 years, there’s no telling what kind of advancements we’ll see and how these things will change our habits from what they are now and what they used to be 50 years ago.
One quote I liked in particular from The Shallows was from page 63: “The natural state of the human brain, like that of the brains of most of our relatives in the animal kingdom, is one of distractedness.” A few sentences before this quote Carr wrote about how “readers didn’t just become more efficient [over time]. They also became more attentive.” The second quote acknowledges how the human brain is evolving overtime to accommodate the complex activity of reading. The first six chapters of The Shallows roughly outline a brief timeline of the human brain: distracted and scattered in the time of ancient civilizations and cavemen, more developed and focused at the dawn of the invention of writing, and then rapidly becoming more sophisticated and complex as reading and writing became a necessary element to everyday human life. This has been proven true on many accounts, looking back on how the works produced by humans over the years and how they have been getting more complex and sophisticated. With the emergence of modern day technology, humans have evolved more than ever. Our brains have rewired over the decades to adapt to constantly reading in small snippets, very quickly. Our intake of information has dramatically increased due to the greater ease of access to information on countless different topics, aiding to monumental research and general public knowledge. Almost 24/7 we are gathering and processing new information in our brains from all the screens and various signs we read, so of course our brains had to adapt to this new lifestyle that technology has led us to.
This constant intake of information in small bursts has, in a way, brought our brains back to the very distractedness that is mentioned in the quotes. Before the Internet gave us the ability to find new material to read and things to learn, humans had to go to libraries and to research in physical books, sitting in front of books for hours at a time. In order to extract information and learn things from text, readers had to immerse themselves in what they were reading. Today, the opposite is true. If we see an article online of more than a few paragraphs in length, we generally tend to try and find a shorter article on the same topic. Since the emergence of the Internet, we have become accustomed to finding what we need in a few paragraphs or less. This has lead us to become more distracted when presented with a “lengthy” piece of text. Even modern day research suggests ways to cope with the distractedness of our brains while studying (bullet 2, 4, and 7).
While modern technology and the Internet did bring positive monumental change to the world, and our way of living, it has taken a toll on our brains in the form of distractedness and the high demand for quick intake of information. The benefits of this technology does far outweigh the costs, but this proves to show that nothing comes without consequence.