Recently, I read a book by Nicholas Carr titled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Simply based off of that title, it is evident that the book would attempt to shed light on the negative side effects that accompany internet use. Carr also went a step further, not just focusing on the internet, but more broadly on new technology. Carr’s intent is to explain how access to ever-increasing technology (i.e. computers, phones, electronic readers) is physically changing our brains, and thereby altering the essence of how humans think.
My overall reaction to this book is that it came off as a type of scare tactic to its readers. The overarching theme is that by becoming more dependent on the internet, humans lose the ability to think deeply. That claim on its own is scary enough. Personally, I cherish my ability to think deeply and be thoroughly engaged in deep thought when reading. This is an ability I do not want to lose, so when I read a book that’s main argument is that this ability could be threatened by something that I am using more and more, I take notice. Carr supports the idea that the brain can be physically altered by supplying scientific studies on how the brain can actually change, or be “rewired,” depending on how it is being used. This possibility is the scariest part of his argument. To know that my brain could actually be altered in a way that would affect my ability to read and understand on a significantly deep level is concerning. However, I noticed some gaps in this argument as I read.
I read. And I understood. And I felt that I was able to concentrate on what Carr was discussing on each page without an innate desire to check my phone or email as Carr frequently noted in the book. There are a few things I would like to consider on this point. The first being that perhaps I did not understand the book and I was unconsciously drifting in and out. It could be that it is only because I do not want to believe that the internet and technology that I have grown up with have inhibited my deep thinking ability (I am in grad school, so I like to think I’m not a shallow thinker). My second point adds on to my first. This technology is something I have grown up with. Having been a child and teenager when the internet, computer, and phones were really taking off, it didn’t feel like a big shift from past technologies.
Carr did not spend much time examining the effect the use of new technology can have on one’s brain depending on his or her age. I couldn’t help but wonder if one grows up with the internet as second nature, perhaps the brain reacts differently than the brain of someone who spent years without the internet and is now opened up to its possibilities. I get the impression that much of Carr’s argument is based off of his own personal experience with the internet. At one point he mentions he purged himself from Facebook, Twitter, blogging, emailing, and cell service. Personally, I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, or blogging that frequently, and I certainly don’t feel a constant draw to check statuses on those sites. This makes me think (or hope) that I am not a victim of shallow thinking. At the very least, Carr’s book made me a bit more aware of the possible side effects that go along with technology. However, seeing no other alternative, those side effects are a risk I’m willing to take.