An Extension of Ourselves

Throughout my life, people have always pondered the question of whether iPhones and the internet bring more benefits or losses to our society as a whole. I remember when I was 14 years old, I was standing on the stage at the Miss Hockessin pageant, and I was asked this exact question. It has always been difficult for me to distinguish whether iPhones and social media truly help us grow or hinder our abilities. And to this day, I still have trouble coming up with an answer.

On one hand, these new technologies have given us the opportunity to communicate much more easily. We can send a quick text or tweet to anyone around the world within only a few seconds. We can share our lives and accomplishments with family and friends we no longer get to see. We can find answers to any questions we may have, right in the palm of our hands. So many benefits. But, what are the losses? As Carr points out, we have lost our sense of concentration. Whereas before, we could sit down and immerse ourself in a book for hours, now we can barely sit through a lecture without looking for the next best thing to grab our attention. Although our personal connection has expanded digitally, we no longer can connect with people face-to-face. When I walk into my classes, no one is talking to each other. They all have their faces shielded down from the real world, as they live through their virtual reality. Some people even use these technologies as a weapon. Behind a screen, individuals are able to anonymously insult and hurt others through multiple social networking sites. Lastly, there have been negative effects on our physical health. In an article from The New York Times, it was said that the constant slouching from our iPhone use can actually be correlated to our loss of memory and a decline in our moods.

So whose to blame? Certainly, Steve Jobs and the other creators of the World Wide Web never intended for their creations to bring about such impacts. I think the best answer to this question comes from Carr. “The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value” (3). The iPhone and internet were never meant to be bad or result in a negative impact on people. It’s because of how we use them that makes them bad. We could use our phones and still be able to communicate with people in person, but we choose not too. We have changed what was once just a useful tool, to an actual extension of our body and mind.  We no longer separate ourselves from the technology. We can try to change these negative impacts though. Slowly, but surely, we are trying to understand the happy medium between technology use and personal interaction. I’m curious to read more from Carr and see if he has his own theories on how to stop digital technologies from completely taking over our lives.

The Internet Impacting Our Concentration: Fact or Fiction?

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.