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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains [Hardcover]

by Nicholas Carr
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 7, 2010 0393072223 978-0393072228 0

Finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction: “Nicholas Carr has written a Silent Spring for the literary mind.”—Michael Agger, Slate

Finalist for the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award

“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

One of the major issues dividing the critics was whether Carr's claim that the Internet has shortchanged our brain power is, essentially, correct. Many bought into his argument about the neurological effects of the Internet, but the more expert among them (Jonah Lehrer, for one) cited scientific evidence that such technologies actually benefit the mind. Still, as Lehrer, in the New York Times Book Review, points out, Carr is no Luddite, and he fully recognizes the usefulness of the Internet. Other criticism was more trivial, such as the value of Carr's historical and cultural digressions--from Plato to HAL. In the end, Carr offers a thought-provoking investigation into our relationship with technology--even if he offers no easy answers.

From Booklist

Carr—author of The Big Switch (2007) and the much-discussed Atlantic Monthly story “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”—is an astute critic of the information technology revolution. Here he looks to neurological science to gauge the organic impact of computers, citing fascinating experiments that contrast the neural pathways built by reading books versus those forged by surfing the hypnotic Internet, where portals lead us on from one text, image, or video to another while we’re being bombarded by messages, alerts, and feeds. This glimmering realm of interruption and distraction impedes the sort of comprehension and retention “deep reading” engenders, Carr explains. And not only are we reconfiguring our brains, we are also forging a “new intellectual ethic,” an arresting observation Carr expands on while discussing Google’s gargantuan book digitization project. What are the consequences of new habits of mind that abandon sustained immersion and concentration for darting about, snagging bits of information? What is gained and what is lost? Carr’s fresh, lucid, and engaging assessment of our infatuation with the Web is provocative and revelatory. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393072223
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393072228
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicholas Carr is an acclaimed writer on technology and culture. His most recent book, "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains," was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. A New York Times bestseller, "The Shallows" discusses the personal consequences of Internet and computer use and, more broadly, examines the role that media and other technologies have played in shaping the way people think. Carr is also the author of the 2008 Wall Street Journal bestseller "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google," which ranked #4 on Newsweek's recent list of 50 Books to Read Now, and of the influential 2004 book "Does IT Matter?" Carr recently completed a new book, "The Glass Cage: Automation and Us," which will be published in the fall of 2014. In addition to writing books, Carr contributes articles and essays to many newspapers and magazines. He wrote the celebrated and much-anthologized essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," which appeared in The Atlantic, and he has also contributed to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, Wired, Nature, MIT Technology Review, and The Guardian. He was formerly the executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. Carr blogs at More information about his work can be found at his website, [Author photo by Joanie Simon.]

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
560 of 575 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Death by a thousand distracting cuts June 8, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this short but informative, thought-provoking book, Nicholas Carr presents an argument I've long felt to be true on a humanist level, but supports it with considerable scientific research. In fact, he speaks as a longtime computer enthusiast, one who's come to question what he once wholeheartedly embraced ... and even now, he takes care to distinguish between the beneficial & detrimental aspects of the Internet.

The argument in question?

- Greater access to knowledge is not the same as greater knowledge.

- An ever-increasing plethora of facts & data is not the same as wisdom.

- Breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge.

- Multitasking is not the same as complexity.

The studies that Carr presents are troubling, to say the least. From what has been gleaned to date, it's clear that the brain retains a certain amount of plasticity throughout life -- that is, it can be reshaped, and the way that we think can be reshaped, for good or for ill. Thus, if the brain is trained to respond to & take pleasure in the faster pace of the digital world, it is reshaped to favor that approach to experiencing the world as a whole. More, it comes to crave that experience, as the body increasingly craves more of anything it's trained to respond to pleasurably & positively. The more you use a drug, the more you need to sustain even the basic rush.

And where does that leave the mind shaped by deep reading? The mind that immerses itself in the universe of a book, rather than simply looking for a few key phrases & paragraphs? The mind that develops through slow, quiet contemplation, mulling over ideas in their entirety, and growing as a result?
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139 of 145 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A work which merits deep reading June 6, 2010
The Internet has made the information- universes of all of us much larger. At the same time it has altered the way we read, and the way we pay attention. The major thesis of this work is that it has made us shallower creatures. In Carr's words," We want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information... And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive. Tuning out is not an option many of us would consider. (p. 133-4)" This means in effect that our powers of concentration and contemplation, if not diminished all at once, are nonetheless put less to use. It means that we do not really take in much of what we read and see, but rather let it pass by as something new comes to attract and distract us. It too means according to Carr transformations in actual brain- structure. And he uses the results of cognitive brain studies to point out how excessive use of the Internet reshapes our brain- structure.

Carr argues that with the advent of reading humanity developed a different kind of neural structure. Reading which was an extension of story- telling enabled us to begin to speak to ourselves, to contemplate reality in deeper ways. The bookman mind is a deeper mind than the electronic - mind , despite MacLuhan's contrary take.

Still one might argue that we need not be the slaves of the predominant technology. It all depends upon the will, decision, determination of the individual. The horde may decide to operate in a certain way, but one has the power to shut the machine off.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful
When I first came across this book I noticed that a lot of my friends on social media were expressing disgust or boredom with the thesis of "Is the Internet frying our brain?" After all, who but a curmudgeon would claim that the most vital and transformative technology of our time might have a dark side? Especially at a time when leading edge educators are working furiously to bring their field up to date by incorporating the best of the latest technology in a way that improves education. Against this background Carr's book seems reminiscent of those poor backward folks who opposed the printing press. As the brilliant and funny curmudgeon Neil Postman once said about himself, Carr is indeed playing the role of the Luddite in some ways. Still, neither Postman nor Carr were trying to dismantle the Internet or just shriek an alarm with their work. They are trying to help us understand something important. With that in mind, let's take a more careful look at this book.

The Shallows is a thoroughly and broadly researched and beautifully written polemic which I found to represent two different things. First, it is a media analysis and culture critique. Second it is a pessimistic theory about the overall effect of web media on our thinking ability over time.

The first aspect will be a delight for those interested in the evolution of human cognition, those fascinated with media effects per se, the traditionally minded book scholars, and assorted geezers. It is a very satisfying cultural media critique very much in the spirit of Marshall Macluhan and Neil Postman even though it lacks Macluhan's showmanship or Postman's remarkable ever-present humor.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars What We're Not Doing With Our Brains
This book serves, for me anyway, as a guide; back to the use of our cognitive skill that is being lost to technology. Read more
Published 3 days ago by Brian Ekasala
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent. Exactly what I was looking for.
I, too, have been sensing for quite some time a growing feeling of distraction and fragmentation. Nick Carr's The Shallows helps me understand why I have been feeling this way. Read more
Published 11 days ago by James R. Briggs
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
This book is very timely and raises awareness of one of most important concerns for the 24x7 wired human race – the impact of internet on human cognition. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Jag Randhawa
3.0 out of 5 stars A little disappointing but still informative
This book was an eye-opener and explained a lot about the troubles I and many people I know are having with our memories. Read more
Published 26 days ago by AvidReader
3.0 out of 5 stars It's okay.
I thought the book was interesting. I had to order it for school, but I did like it a little bit.
Published 1 month ago by Catrease
5.0 out of 5 stars A Warning We Should Heed!
If you haven't noticed it happening on your own, this book will send a warning about how shallow our thinking can become if we rely on electronic media for all our communication. Read more
Published 1 month ago by renee
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book
N. Carr's "The Shallows" is by far the best book I've read this year. It's meticulously researched, very well-written, and magnificently put together. Outstanding.
Published 1 month ago by Yaniv Kleinman
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read
It was an interesting read. I appreciated that this book brought the affects of our dependency on the internet to my attention.
Published 1 month ago by Kubra
4.0 out of 5 stars Technology and Speed
Wow! I have felt the same thing happening. I scan emails for important messages and the same with FBI don't read everything- and I what I do read I'm looking for ways around it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joyce L. Bugbee
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking - Interweaving of Neuroscience
There are other authors I read before this one: Sherry Turkle, Nancy Baym are but two examples. I grabbed this because I was interested in a more physiological discussion. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
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No Kindle?
Interesting. Instead of taking 5 seconds to understand how the publishing industry works, instead you insult the author. Publishing companies, like every other company in the world, do what they can to optimize their profits. This is how we operate under capitalism. It's a beautiful thing. ... Read more
Jun 6, 2010 by JM |  See all 5 posts
Internet makes us stupid or is it really up to us to train ourselves to...
Stefania, an excellent point for consideration.

You say, " is up to us to become aware of the level of and upscale our information processing skills to match the potentials of technology and train ourselves to become powerful knowledge workers "

Ideally, yes -- but for... Read more
Jun 21, 2010 by William Timothy Lukeman |  See all 8 posts
The most outrageous Kindle price!
agreed....I haven't purchased yet because of that.
Jun 21, 2010 by J. Martens |  See all 2 posts
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