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613 of 629 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Death by a thousand distracting cuts
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...
Published on June 8, 2010 by William Timothy Lukeman

221 of 250 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed Opportunity
The Shallows is an expansion of Carr's 2007 article in The Atlantic, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" The question with a book of this derivation is always: does it achieve more than the article did, or is it just a puffed up excuse to gain from the notoriety of the original piece, now freely available on the Internet? To that question, I answer that it is indeed more than...
Published on July 2, 2010 by Serious Fun

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We program computers, then they program us..., March 28, 2011
L. F. Smith (E. Wenatchee, WA) - See all my reviews
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This is a thought-provoking book. The thesis of the book is that the Internet is having the profound effect of changing the ways our brains process information. Generally (and realize here that I'm summarizing a book-length argument), using the Internet causes our brains to become more efficient processors of information, but less creative producers of wisdom. In short, using the Internet interferes with our ability to form the judgments that comprise wisdom. At the same time, the ubiquity of the Internet causes us to confuse information with knowledge and obscures the very existence of-- and the necessity for-- wisdom.

Is Carr correct? That probably remains to be seen. However, he does present a great deal of evidence to support his thesis, and it would be interesting to see the counter evidence that might exist. The book is not, as some reviews suggest, any sort of attack on the Internet. Rather, Carr is cautioning us that we need to become aware of what using the Internet is doing to us. Of course, this will be most difficult, since if his thesis is correct, the effects are so pervasive as to be imperceptible.

I really liked this book. I can see and feel in myself the changes in cognitive habits and abilities that Carr is describing. However, I'm not as sure as he is that this is a bad thing. After all, the human experience on earth is one of continual evolution. It seems very likely that the Internet is causing our mental process to evolve. The question is whether this evolution is a positive or negative thing. Neither Carr nor I know.

Read this book and think about it. It's well worth the effort.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Preaching to the Choir, October 8, 2010
Jiang Xueqin (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
In "The Shallows" Nicholas Carr makes a passionate defense of the brain reared in the reading of long sprawling novels ("War and Peace" is his favorite example) by attacking the brain abandoned to the caprices of Internet text. Mr. Carr tells us what has recently been known but has been proven without a doubt: that the brain is "plastic," and it is what you make of it. A brain that has been reading novels from childhood can approach every task with concentration and focus, diligence and nuance because that's the way the brain has been programmed. A brain that has been "reading" blogs on the other hand probably approaches every task with impatience and erraticness, shallowness and indifference. As individuals we no longer think deeply.

Mr. Carr writes that the entire reading experience transforms from a linear, logical experience to something fleeting and erratic. That's because of "multi-tasking," whereby when you're trying to construct an e-mail you're also chatting online and getting live updates on your favorite bloggers just as you're doing internet banking and shopping for a birthday present for your mother -- because your mind is everywhere it's ultimately nowhere. (Mr. Carr tells a touching anecdote of how back in 1974 when computer scientists were experimenting with the now omnipresent windows display format and one was bragging how this permitted one to be interrupted while composing a personal e-mail, another scientist asked, "Why would I want to be interrupted while I'm composing a personal e-mail...." -- ah, the particular sentimentalities of the the ancients.) Also, links within the text invite readers to jump around, scattering their concentration. Experiments show that readers who use multi-media hyperlinks embedded within a reading passage don't come away with an enhanced understanding of the text, but can't even seem to recall the main points. Another way of looking at this is that the reader was overloaded with information that was not managed and narrated to him, which is what he was seeking from the reading in the first place -- in other words, the Internet reading process undermines and destroys reading in the first place. But Mr. Carr also points out that the Amazon Kindle has thousands upon thousands of links for classic novels (this means it's now very convenient to read footnotes and endnotes, but who actually read footnotes and endnotes anyway?)

All in all, Mr. Carr makes a compelling case that the Internet is bad for reading, and that's bad because reading is good. So it's very hard to see the point for this book. Also, half of the book focuses on how language and reading were developed, and then Mr. Carr jumps into the Internet without discussing in detail the rise of movies and television, and the growing dominance of the image over the word -- if he's going to tell the story of modern commmunication then at least tell it right. He also relies too heavily on popular books, but sometimes you wonder if he's just trying to squeeze in as many books as possibleF I can see why "The Proust and the Squid" and "The Brain that Changes Itself" would be constantly mentioned (both very excellent books, by the way), but why Steven Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You?" (which is a terrible book, by the way).

I also thought that one last failing in the enterprise is Mr. Carr's failure to mention video games. Because they're so addictive and such a much more real and concrete experience than reading online video games probably are radically changing the circuitry of human beings. Mr. Carr can consider researching and discussing video games for his sequel.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding - Shallow Reviewers Prove the Point, June 20, 2010
Book Fanatic (Houston, TX, United States) - See all my reviews
A book whose thesis is deep reading and reflective thought prompts this review by Chance York:

"I'm 50 pages into this book and it is, by far, the WORST book I've ever read."

That someone wrote that review after reading only 50 pages of a book about book reading almost made me fall out of my chair. Chalk one up for Nick Carr and The Shallows as you this reviewer couldn't have made his point any better. As an aside, to claim this extremely well written book is the "WORST", in upper case no less, book Chance has ever read (perhaps he should say "partially read") is obvious hyperbole.

Carr's argument, whether you agree with it or not, deserves serious consideration. The book is interesting and very well written. It goes deep and if you go deep with it, you will be the better off for it. I'm still struggling with what I think about all this, but The Shallows led me into a lot of careful thought about the topic. That's the whole point after all.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A solid book that will challenge your thinking, August 22, 2011
This review is from: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Paperback)
Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Whether you accept his argument, whether you agree with or question the evidence he uses to support his contentions, or whether you have personal experiences that significantly differ from Carr's, two things you should know about this book on a current and relevant topic include, first, it is well written and organized, and two, it offers a great deal of material for thought, consideration, and discussion.

This is the kind of book I would love to have assigned for a book circle or book club simply because I can see that Carr's ideas would generate a variety of viewpoints, strong advocates as well as healthy critics, and, certainly, lively discussion.

You don't have to accept Carr's premise to enjoy his book. His thesis was effectively stated by Kenneth A. Vatz of Winnetka, Illinois, who writes in his five-star review of the book, "that our increasing addiction to the Internet is not only transforming our minds but physically changing, or rewiring, our brains in such a way as to shorten our attention spans and impair our ability to memorize, think and synthesize."

This book is important, and it should be read by teachers and students as well as by parents and their offspring.

My position is that it is a well-thought-out, well-written, well-researched book that is likely to be the mere tip of the iceberg with respect to this topic, and we will see a great deal more research and writing about it in the future. Carr writes, "When it comes to the quality of our thought, our neurons and synapses are entirely indifferent. The possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains" (p. 35).

I think there is no question at all that the Internet will have a significant influence on the way we both think and behave, and its pernicious influence is likely to become greater and greater as time goes on. This book, then, becomes the benchmark.

I'm a reader. One of the delights in this book is the contrast Carr offers between reading a book or magazine (it's "tactile as well as visual" (p. 90).) and reading a Web document (which "involves physical actions and sensory stimuli very different from those involved in holding and turning . . . pages" (p. 90).) His contrast appears on pages 89-98.

For authors, readers of books, creators of e-books, and publishers, Chapter Six, "The Very Image of a Book," is both an interesting and informative read. The overall thesis, Carr explains, is: "The high-tech features of devices like the Kindle and Apple's new iPad may make it more likely that we'll read e-books, but the way we read them will be very different from the way we read printed editions" (p. 104). The chapter goes on to explain the numerous "changes in the way books are written and presented" (p. 105).

In Chapter Seven, "The Juggler's Brain," Carr goes on to describe and discuss a similar thesis: ". . . the Internet's import and influence can be judged only when viewed in the fuller context of intellectual history. As revolutionary as it may be, the Net is best understood as the latest in a long series of tools that have helped mold the human mind" (p. 115). Carr then goes on to answer the crucial question, "What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work?" (p. 115)

Just an additional thought. After Carr's Chapter Nine, "Search, Memory," he includes three pages (pp. 198-200) entitled, "a digression: on the writing of this book." Now, as a writer, I found these three pages insightful. I always enjoy it when writers write about the process of writing. Carr says, "When I began writing The Shallows, toward the end of 2007, I struggled in vain to keep my mind fixed on the task.

The Net provided, as always, a bounty of useful information and research tools, but its constant interruptions scattered my thoughts and words. I tended to write in disconnected spurts, the same way I wrote when blogging. It was clear that big changes were in order" (p. 198). He says all this as a way of showing what happened when he moved from Boston to the mountains of Colorado where there was no cell phone service, a very slow DSL connection, a canceled Twitter account, a Facebook account put on hiatus, and a shut down blog, RSS reader, skyping, and instant messaging. What happened then is an anecdotal delight -- and worth the read.

With respect to the credibility of the ideas in this book, there are over 25 pages of notes and 4 pages of further readings. Throughout the book, readers are provided important, relevant, and highly accomplished researchers and experts as the basis for his observations. His own experiences are offered, but he only uses them to further extend the research and the expert opinions.

With respect to the author's own credibility, I quote here from his online biography: "Earlier in his career [ before writing his best selling books], Carr was executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and a principal at Mercer Management Consulting.

Carr has been a speaker at MIT, Harvard, Wharton, the Kennedy School of Government, NASA, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas as well as at many industry, corporate, and professional events throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A., in English and American literature and language, from Harvard University."

This is a very good --- outstanding --- book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `Everywhere you look, you see signs of the Net's hegemony over the packaging and flow of information.', September 1, 2010
Is our constant exposure to electronic stimuli good for us? Can we transform the data we receive into the knowledge we need? Are we swapping deep understanding for shallow distractions?

In this book, Nicholas Carr argues that our constant exposure to multiple and faster data streams is changing the way our brains are wired. This change, which is due to the inherent plasticity of the brain, tends to reduce our capacity to absorb and retain what we read. Mr Carr cites a number of different studies to support his views, and the book makes for interesting reading.

Mr Carr acknowledges that the digital world brings both advantage and disadvantage: `Every tool imposes limitations even as it opens possibilities.' The Internet is a wonderful tool for finding information, but value usually requires some analysis, and often requires a context which is not always immediately obvious. How do we find a balance between those aspects of life that require self-awareness, time and careful consideration, and those aspects of life where an automatic (or semi automatic) response is more appropriate and perhaps even required? Do we understand what choices we have, or are we responding in line with the immediacy of the medium we are using? Are we consumers of data or evaluators of information? Does it matter? I think it does: `The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctly human forms of empathy, compassion, and emotion.'

The most valuable aspect of this book, to me, was thinking about the short and long term consequences of the Internet. Those of us who grew to adulthood before the Internet shaped the way we work and communicate have (to varying degrees) embraced the benefits and new possibilities afforded.

A return to the past is neither possible nor desirable - but conscious choice is both.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shallows, June 23, 2010
Daniel Wolf (Traverse City, MI) - See all my reviews
The Shallows expands on the evolutionary notion that the digital age is, for all its advantages and benefits, contributing to a dumbing-down of the generations. The premise behind this idea is that rapid access to facts and new information may actually reduce the depth at which people consider ideas, develop arguments, construct debate, perform analytics, create concepts and engage in learning. The distractive forces of a rapid fire internet stream of data are real according to Carr and the neuro-references he cites.

One of the major challenges is distraction and the risk of training our brains to pay attention to "crap" according to neuroscientists. In addition, the author has concerns that these distractions can undermine empathy, compassion and emotion as we lose track of reality and context. Another concern is that we take on thinking as a more superficial act, and we lose touch with challenging ideas and perhaps innovation as we rely more on conventional lines of thought. This general theme has been bubbling in education circles.

While this points to a rather negative and damning view of intellectual life in the internet age, critics might suggest that digital access and engagement are in fact leading to a new culture of learning, exposure and intellectual life. One could argue the effects, pro and con, of the digital age, including those presented by Carr, as detriments to society. Opponents might argue that these effects are not universal, and in fact, they must be put into balance with the broader exposure afforded to those who have been less educated, less exposed and less engaged in intellectual life.

As with any argument on the origins of stupidity, we have to consider the balance of neurological development, educational practices, individual roles and responsibilities, expectations of society and the power of the human spirit. When we think of mindlessness or mindfulness, we are talking about knowledge and knowledge management. There is more to the equation than simply sourcing data and organizing information. In fact, the whole KM discipline speaks to the acquisition arrangement and application of knowledge, not simply searching for data. This is where "deeper smarts" have a major role.

The bigger story here may be how we guide our people to consider information, knowledge, data, perspectives and the value of content. Carr speaks to a challenge and a risk. He also opens the door for arguments about a society's value for intelligence, learning and consideration. This work touches on philosophy, neuroscience, learning models and the responsibility of a learned society. This is an especially provoking text for those in education, information technology, business analysis, planned innovation and organization development. It has broad applications for leadership and management.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most thought provoking books I've read, June 27, 2010
A. Dolan (Malden, MA USA) - See all my reviews
From the ancient Greek fears of what writing would do to mankind, to the 1600s complaint about too many books, to the present day distractions of the Internet, Carr pulled together a tapestry of how our mind works, and how it has changed over time (as well as how it changes day to day). I found myself pausing, or even stopping, many times to reflect on the personal impact of what he was describing. (I read books - and I spend a lot of work time and personal time on the Internet) Thankfully, this was not a rant for or against - rather it was an invitation to do the kind of deep reading he sees going the way of the dodo bird. I regret that I read a library book, and not a personal copy that I could have marked up.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book Review, November 15, 2010
As people grow and evolve so does technology. In the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, the main concern is how the internet and new technologies are destroying our brains. Nicholas Carr is the author of many books such as Is Google Making Us Stupid?, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google and Does it Matter. Carr has also written articles in many newspapers and magazines. His main concern is how the internet is making people stupid. He believes that people rely too much on technology.

Carr talks a lot about how our brain actually works and transmits information. He also uses many examples and anecdotes to show how people have always used some sort of technology. Throughout his book, Carr uses these examples to illustrate how technology has evolved and how with this evolution people have become "stupid". He provides supporting evidence to show how people, in a sense, are becoming stupid. But at the same time does he not realize that people had to create and invent these new technologies? Some of the newest technologies are very complex. Not only did people have to come up with these new inventions, but they also have to be able to memorize how to use the machine.

Many people do not memorize things like they used to in the past. Before computers people would memorize as much as they could so they would not have to look through multiple books. But now within seconds, anyone around the world can find out anything they can imagine. Carr states that this is possibly destroying our capability to memorize anything, whether it is for work or school. But in one of Carr's examples, he talks about how people used to use "commonplace books". "Commonplace books" were notebooks that people would write quotes or any other important information in. Then if they could not remember something they would simply look it up in this book. In a way this is closely related to looking topics up on Google. So even way before the internet was created, people were slowly using memory capabilities.

Carr makes some good points though. He talks about how people rely too much on the internet and machines to do work for them. This may be true, but humans can not possibly do everything. By inventing and creating robots, we are able to do things we would not have been able to do before. For example, robots and machines do heavy lifting and dangerous work in the military and industry business.

Carr contradicts himself a lot. He talks about how helpful technology is and can be if it is used properly. But then you turn the page and he talks about how people are unable to memorize information and process information like they used to. In a way this implies that people are becoming stupid from advancements in technology. Carr, himself, admits to falling victim to the attraction of the internet. He had to completely cut himself from all technology in order to write this book.

Today's technology helps people in their everyday tasks, whether it is in hospitals saving people's lives, in the car industry, or in time of war. I completely disagree with Nicholas Carr and his opinion that the advancements in technology, primarily what we do on the internet, are destroying people's brains. There are a lot of people out there that rely so much on the internet and other sources of technology that they do not know what to do without it. Some people are crazy when it comes to the internet but not all people. These people are a great example of what Carr is referring too. I can not speak for all people but I can still pick up a book and read it without looking at my phone or computer. I also have no problem memorizing and retaining information. Carr should have made this more of a personal story as an example of what can happen to people's thoughts and behaviors by using his life as the main example. He should not have generalized it to all people.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting the Internet Fog!, July 25, 2010
Ron Coia (Portland, OR United States) - See all my reviews
Let me begin with what I think is Nicholas Carr's main statement in this book:
"What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work?...Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It's possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it's possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that's not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards" (115-116).

Carr has written an engaging book that explores how our Internet habits are changing how we think. He tells how he noticed a shift in his concentration levels after his immersion in the Internet world of links, clicks, and tweets. This English literature major found that he had trouble concentrating on a novel beyond a few pages. After years of training his mind to follow links and read news blasts, he was troubled that he could no longer read deeply. This led him to write an article, "Is Google Making Us Dumb?" which he expanded into this book.

The bottom line of his findings is that our brains are malleable, and they will change to fit the environment. When we "feed" our brain a diet of short bursts of information with no contemplation, the neurons and synapses change. In essence, we teach our brains to be distracted. We become shallow thinkers.

This is a matter I have thought about as a teacher. I look out into a sea of brains that have been raised on digital distractions and see that they cannot sustain attention for a short story without pictures and accompanying videos, never mind a longer work of fiction. While many in education hail the Internet as a wealth of information and a Promethean gift from the gods, I do not see that teaching journals are addressing what this bombardment of information is doing to how we think and, in turn, how we behave in and about the world around us.

In my estimation, this book focuses on three main parts. The first is about neurology and the Internet. At times, it was too technical for me, but I was able to enjoy the idea of the "plasticity" of our brains. This section grounds Carr's premise in scientific testing and research. The second part of the book addresses the history of written text and computer science. As an English teacher and a computer enthusiast, this was my favorite section. The third section discusses the effects of the intertwining of our lives with the Internet. The chapter titled, "The Church of Google" is worth the price of the book, as it gives us a side of Google that causes me to question its company motto, "Do no harm."

Aside from the intriguing topic, I also enjoyed Carr's writing style. This book is filled with excellent quotations and stories about books and reading. One story that is particularly vivid is his recounting of Nathaniel Hawthorne enjoying a peaceful time of contemplation in Sleepy Hollow when the noisy locomotive arrives in town. The juxtaposition of these two worlds powerfully captures how we are distracted by the Internet "railroad." My copy of the book is marked up, and I intend to return to it for these reminders.

This book has given me an impetus to make some changes in my Internet usage. I am online far more than I want to be. Like Nicholas Carr, I have a difficult time concentrating on longer novels or books, due to my constant checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and IMDB. Writing pieces like this are often punctuated with non-stop searches for other distractions and procrastinations. Because of reading many small headlines or articles, I do not have time to process them so I don't really "know" them. All I have at the end of a surfing session is three fewer hours in my life.

This is not the life I want to lead. In Mark 12:30, Jesus tells us to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Not only do I want to redeem the time to worship Him rather than wasting it on Facebook, but I also want every neuron and synapse to glorify Him as much as it is possible. If I am shrinking those connections that shorten my thinking, something must change. How can I love God with my mind if I am short-circuiting my brain with distractions and interferences?

The Shallows is one of the best books I've read on this list of [...] so far. Nicholas Carr has written a powerful book that I'll think about every time I'm tempted to check my email or Facebook "real quick." He has also, perhaps inadvertently, offered some spiritual advice to help in my improvement as a Christian. I see that even reading Christian blogs or religious news or even Bible study tools can, in effect, act as a stumbling block in our faith if they are distractions interrupting our mediation or contemplation of deeper things.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disorganized, shallow book, December 19, 2010
I am not one of those people who will defend what is going on the internet as good. I even agree with the thesis that the internet is making us more impulsive, and more superficial. But in the end, that is really the only thing the book says. Yes, he discusses what neuroplasticity is, and how technology affects civilization. But these topics only loosely support his thesis, and really are off topic. It feels like he is using the "I am going to say things way above your head to make you think I smart" argumentation strategy. As someone who understands that type of stuff, I realize when he actually gets to the meat of his book, he doesn't say much more than what should be said in a small essay.

While I don't buy into the doomsday predictions that Carr predicts, to say that the only negative effect that the internet has on us is a lack of focus really shows a strong lack of research. The increase in internet usage decreases the amount of face to face time people have with others. Research shows that this (more than the lack of focus) has had a huge effect on social relationships among the young. Moreover, the fact that we can selectively read news from from like-minded people makes the internet a huge echo chamber. This is narrowing our viewpoints rather that diversifying our opinions on issues, and adding to the polarization in this country.

But what is most annoying about the book is the lack of organization in his book. He has no rhyme or reason to how his book is organized. Furthermore he repeats himself quite a bit. The book is poor writing. I would recommend reading elsewhere if you want to read about how the internet is changing our brains.
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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (Paperback - June 6, 2011)
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