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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

408 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393339758
ISBN-10: 0393339750
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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393339750
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393339758
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (408 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,544 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicholas Carr is an acclaimed writer on technology and culture whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages. His latest work, "The Glass Cage: Automation and Us," examines the personal, social, and economic consequences of our growing dependence on computers to do our jobs and live our lives. The New York Times Book Review called the book "essential," and the Wall Street Journal termed it "elegant."

Carr's 2010 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 cognitive 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 the Financial Times called "the best read so far about the significance of the shift to cloud computing," and of the much-discussed 2004 book "Does IT Matter?" 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, and Nature. He was formerly the executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. Carr blogs at www.roughtype.com. More information about his work can be found at his website, www.nicholascarr.com. [Author photo by Merrick Chase.]

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

647 of 665 people found the following review helpful By William Timothy Lukeman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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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163 of 172 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on June 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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78 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on June 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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