27 June 2012

Where Our Minds Are Going

Trade paperback, 280 pages
Published 2011 (content: 2010)
Acquired November 2011

Read May 2012
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr

I skimmed this book a lot when I was trying to find a chapter to pull out and teach to my students (as a companion to M. T. Anderson's novel Feed, which covers the same topic in many ways). I knew that Carr would hate me for that, so I resolved the read the whole book some day.  I'm glad I did; this is a very effective expansion of Carr's notorious article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Carr lines up his ducks quite nicely. He starts by demonstrating that the way we think is shaped by the way we read, and that the way we read is shaped by the technologies we possess, by giving a broad overview of the history of print, heavily drawing on Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, and Elizabeth Eistenstein. There were a lot of things I knew here, but also ones I didn't-- loved the assertion (I think it came from Ong) that we couldn't have had the scientific revolution without the printing press. From there, he discusses research into how we think is presently being reshaped by the Internet and other electronic technologies.  It's hard not to argue with any of his conclusions-- these things are almost certainly happening. Sometimes his arguments boil down to "McLuhan was right all along," but given that we've forgotten that, it's worth repeating.

What are we to do about it?  That's where I wish that Carr had gone further. It's fine for his article to not delve into potential actions, but in a book-length work it seems like something of an oversight and misstep. I'm trying to cut down on my Internet use, for what it's worth, but that's hard to do with a brain like mine in a world like ours.

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