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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Started out as an essay and never gets deeper, October 28, 2010
This review is from: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Hardcover)
Nicholas Carr's _The Shallows_ began life as an essay on whether Google use (and computer-related work in general) is making us stupid. An interesting premise for sure, and one that needs an in-depth treatment.

Much like the title, though, Carr's work never makes the transition from essay to full-fledged book. It avoids the deep end, reading like a meditation on consciousness when it should be a hard-hitting science book that repeatedly backs up its premise that Internet use is diminishing us. _The Shallows_ better resembles the brain physiology equivalent of _Pilgrim at Tinker Creek_ than a hard-hitting exposé and warning.

Problems with Carr's direction manifest early on, as the buildup to the core premise takes forever to unfold. While Carr will argue that today's readers can no longer follow an extended argument because they spend too much time scanning text for keywords, his own book only adds grist for that mill. It is one thing to lay out a nuanced argument, but eventually one must present that argument. That we get too much of a history of learning at the beginning of _The Shallows_ only forces the reader to acknowledge that perhaps not much real argument follows, as the remaining bundle of pages look slighter and slighter as one reads on.

And this is too bad, as _The Shallows_ does eventually present some interesting facts about our use of computer-related tech and gadgetry. The problem is that extracting meaning from those facts eludes the author. What can we truly make of the reality that our use of tech is making us more like machines and less like humans beings? If the way we work online does alter the physical layout of our brains in harmful ways, we need to see worst case scenarios. Sadly, there's a sense of guilt in Carr that appears to prevent him from delivering the death blow to the detrimental effects of Internet usage, allowing himself an out in case he's wrong. Indeed, after detailing his own fast from tech that allowed him to finally concentrate enough to write _The Shallows_, Carr confesses to lapsing back into the wired lifestyle he supposedly decries.

All this leads the reader to ask, "Well, is the Internet bad for us or not?" The hints are there that it is, but Carr never goes all-in. Worse, even the points he makes in favor of the premise that it could be harmful don't lead to much conjecture about the fallout of such a slide. His section on the shallowness of multitasking COULD have been a profound indictment of the modern work world, but we instead get more of a meditative answer than anything hard-hitting. We read how traditional facts are no longer memorized (such as dates of events), as we instead relegate them to databases and fill our minds with "other" things. Yet is this a good or bad course? And how would the negative course alter society for the worse? Carr hints at negative outcomes, but we need more than hints and a few philosophical musings.

The lack of substantive premise support and forceful, dystopian warnings renders _The Shallows_ shallow. It's a book that could have been a contender, but instead it reads like a padded essay that was rushed into print. How sad that a book that decries reading by skimming almost forces readers to skim it as they search for something substantive to latch onto.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 2, 2011 8:35:21 AM PDT
I find your comments very insightful, and I agree that this book leaves you thirsty for more in-depth information, but I think that the reality is that it'd be too presumptuous to make definite statements at this point.
I suspect Carr went back to the cloud not because he surrendered to it, but because Internet is not a black and white proposition.
I agree also that the beginning was very detailed. I actually enjoyed it and perhaps it scared away many readers already infected with the "Internet bug." Nevertheless I see in Carr's book a good beginning. You want to call it an essay, fine. It's a good essay, it's a wake up call, and in my view should be followed with a book with more content and more evidence, so he's not called an alarmist, which at the end of the day is perhaps what stopped him from going deeper into this subject at this point.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2011 8:04:05 PM PDT
Ruben,

The book's concept was an essay/article in _The Atlantic_ called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" I read that article when it first came out, and I think reading _The Shallows_ doesn't add much to the original.

That's a shame. Hence, my critique.

Posted on Jul 11, 2011 5:07:41 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 4, 2011 3:49:34 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 21, 2012 4:06:28 PM PST
oriflamme says:
I find this the most insightful comment. The argument does need better data, but it's a start. I believe the personal and historical material at the beginning is intended to function ironically, as a counter to the bits of detached info on the internet; Carr tries briefly to convey the quality (in every sense) of these different ways of viewing the world through famous writers and works of literature and philosophy. Personally, I think it is less the medium of the internet that's a problem than the presence of too much information for the mind to grasp and sort; the human mind does tend to go for quick, distracted instant info and gratification, and any medium which provides so much access to useless mental Twinkies is bound to have negative, addictive effects. The solution is to educate people (especially parents) that the stimulation of so much stuff is as dangerous to the brain as cocaine (I wonder if anyone's compared a scan of the brain on Google, or on videogames, to the brain on drugs) and therefore should be used sparingly--especially on immature minds with no other template with which to defend themselves.
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