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

Nicholas Carr
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (336 customer reviews)

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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

Review

The Shallows certainly isn't the first examination of this subject, but it's more lucid, concise and pertinent than similar works ... An essential, accessible dispatch about how we think now.” (Laura Miller - Salon)

“A must-read for any desk jockey concerned about the Web’s deleterious effects on the mind.” (Newsweek)

“Persuasive ... A prolific blogger, tech pundit, and author, [Carr] cites enough academic research in The Shallows to give anyone pause about society's full embrace of the Internet as an unadulterated force for progress . . . Carr lays out, in engaging, accessible prose, the science that may explain these results.” (Peter Burrows - BusinessWeek)

“Another reason for book lovers not to throw in the towel quite yet is The Shallows...a quietly eloquent retort to those who claim that digital culture is harmless—who claim, in fact, that we're getting smarter by the minute just because we can plug in a computer and allow ourselves to get lost in the funhouse of endless hyperlinks.” (Julia Keller - Chicago Tribune)

“The subtitle of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains leads one to expect a polemic in the tradition of those published in the 1950s about how rock ’n’ roll was corrupting the nation’s youth ... But this is no such book. It is a patient and rewarding popularization of some of the research being done at the frontiers of brain science ... Mild-mannered, never polemical, with nothing of the Luddite about him, Carr makes his points with a lot of apt citations and wide-ranging erudition.” (Christopher Caldwell - Financial Times)

“Starred Review. Carr provides a deep, enlightening examination of how the Internet influences the brain and its neural pathways. Carr’s analysis incorporates a wealth of neuroscience and other research, as well as philosophy, science, history and cultural developments ... His fantastic investigation of the effect of the Internet on our neurological selves concludes with a very humanistic petition for balancing our human and computer interactions ... Highly recommended.” (Library Journal)

“You really should read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows . . . Far from offering a series of rants on the dangers of new media, Carr spends chapters walking us through a variety of historical experiments and laymen's explanations on the workings of the brain . . . He makes the research stand on end, punctuating it with pithy conclusions and clever phrasing.” (Fritz Nelson - Information Week)

The Shallows isn’t McLuhan’s Understanding Media, but the curiosity rather than trepidation with which Carr reports on the effects of online culture pulls him well into line with his predecessor . . . Carr’s ability to crosscut between cognitive studies involving monkeys and eerily prescient prefigurations of the modern computer opens a line of inquiry into the relationship between human and technology.” (Ellen Wernecke, - The Onion A.V. Club)

“Absorbing [and] disturbing. We all joke about how the Internet is turning us, and especially our kids, into fast-twitch airheads incapable of profound cogitation. It's no joke, Mr. Carr insists, and he has me persuaded.” (John Horgan - Wall Street Journal)

“The best book I read last year — and by “best” I really just mean the book that made the strongest impression on me — was The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr. Like most people, I had some strong intuitions about how my life and the world have been changing in response to the Internet. But I could neither put those intuitions into an argument, nor be sure that they had any basis in the first place. Carr persuasively — and with great subtlety and beauty — makes the case that it is not only the content of our thoughts that are radically altered by phones and computers, but the structure of our brains — our ability to have certain kinds of thoughts and experiences. And the kinds of thoughts and experiences at stake are those that have defined our humanity. Carr is not a proselytizer, and he is no techno-troglodyte. He is a profoundly sharp thinker and writer — equal parts journalist, psychologist, popular science writer, and philosopher. I have not only given this book to numerous friends, I actually changed my life in response to it.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)

“This is a lovely story well told—an ode to a quieter, less frenetic time when reading was more than skimming and thought was more than mere recitation.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“This is a measured manifesto. Even as Carr bemoans his vanishing attention span, he’s careful to note the usefulness of the Internet, which provides us with access to a near infinitude of information. We might be consigned to the intellectual shallows, but these shallows are as wide as a vast ocean.” (Jonah Lehrer - The New York Times Book Review)

“A thought provoking exploration of the Internet’s physical and cultural consequences, rendering highly technical material intelligible to the general reader.” (The 2011 Pulitzer Prize Committee)

“The core of education is this: developing the capacity to concentrate. The fruits of this capacity we call civilization. But all that is finished, perhaps. Welcome to the shallows, where the un-educating of homo sapiens begins. Nicholas Carr does a wonderful job synthesizing the recent cognitive research. In doing so, he gently refutes the ideologists of progress, and shows what is really at stake in the daily habits of our wired lives: the re-constitution of our minds. What emerges for the reader, inexorably, is the suspicion that we have well and truly screwed ourselves.” (Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class As Soulcraft)

“Nicholas Carr carefully examines the most important topic in contemporary culture—the mental and social transformation created by our new electronic environment. Without ever losing sight of the larger questions at stake, he calmly demolishes the clichés that have dominated discussions about the Internet. Witty, ambitious, and immensely readable, The Shallows actually manages to describe the weird, new, artificial world in which we now live.” (Dana Gioia, poet and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts)

“Neither a tub-thumpingly alarmist jeremiad nor a breathlessly Panglossian ode to the digital self, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is a deeply thoughtful, surprising exploration of our “frenzied” psyches in the age of the Internet. Whether you do it in pixels or pages, read this book.” (Tom Vanderbilt, author, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us))

“Ultimately, The Shallows is a book about the preservation of the human capacity for contemplation and wisdom, in an epoch where both appear increasingly threatened. Nick Carr provides a thought-provoking and intellectually courageous account of how the medium of the Internet is changing the way we think now and how future generations will or will not think. Few works could be more important.” (Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain)

“Nicholas Carr has written an important and timely book. See if you can stay off the web long enough to read it!” (Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change)

About the Author

Nicholas Carr is the author of The Shallows, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, as well as The Big Switch and Does IT Matter? His articles and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and the New Republic, and he writes the widely read blog Rough Type. He has been writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, and an executive editor of the Harvard Business Review.

From AudioFile

Expanding on his ATLANTIC MONTHLY cover story, Nicholas Carr debates whether our Internet use is sacrificing both our ability to read long, complex material and to think deeply, with reflection. The author takes a historically thoughtful, logical, and neuroscientific perspective. The histories of the invention of radio as well as the arrival of the personal computer age are engagingly presented. Paul Michael Garcia presents the often-fascinating theories in a curiously uniform gray and uninflected way. Fact and opinion are narrated evenly and without any real emotion or humor. At times, the narration approximates the speech of the disembodied computer HAL from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which the author mentions. W.A.G. © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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