Author Topic: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr  (Read 2306 times)


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The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
« on: August 21, 2018, 06:06:42 AM »
The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing The Way We Think, Read and Remember.

I just finished reading this book. It's the first non fiction book that gave me goosebumps as I turned over the last page.

Fundamentally, the book is about the idea that technology shapes us just as much as we shape it. That, and the quip that "the medium is the message". Mr. Carr takes us through humanity's transitions from a purely oral society, to a society that could write down what it was thinking, then to several advancements in writing and reading (punctuation, spaces between words, silent reading, the codex aka 'book', Gutenberg's press etc), and then to more modern technologies (phonograph, radio, television, and finally the internet). He talks about how we changed with each of these shifts, in ways both good and bad. For instance, with the spread of silent reading, humans could afford not to spend their energy orating in a sing-song manner, and could instead 'contemplate'. And this spurred writer's to write more from the heart too. Each transition is researched superbly, and he does a great job at separating the wheat from the chaff so that the book always stays readable and compelling. It's masterfully written.

Interspersed between these history lessons of technologies are absolutely joyful sections describing how the human brain works. How neuroplasticity helps bridge the two worlds: one where the brain is a fixed object, no different to a factory produced machine, and one where the brain and the 'mind' (or soul, if you will) are two separate identities, and never the twain shall meet. Neuroplasticity confirms that our genes are not our destiny, but a template for a brain that will, over the course of a life, evolve and change due to the environment and indeed, our own thought process. He goes into scientific detail, without patronizingly considering the material 'too advanced' for the dumb reader, about how the brain changes not just biochemically, but also anatomically, when we form long term memories. He takes pains to confirm that memory is not something that can be externalised to the internet, since in the process of creating memories, we create mental models (schemas) of the thing we are trying to understand. This mental model that understands something deeply simply is not present in those of us who trust the internet to do the remembering for us.

There is a lot more to be said, but it might soon become an entire rewrite of the book itself, so I will stop. I recommend that you go pick it up. I found out about this book while reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. Cal references it in his own book, but I sort of went about it backwards. The Shallows gives you an explanation for _why_ deep work is necessary, by telling us how, while the brain is plastic, it is not elastic, and so, we must act fast and decisively to preserve our brain and keep it in optimum condition. Deep Work then gives us the _method_ to do it. Of the two, I would say The Shallows is the better book. It is, ironically, more deeply written, and it tells me the problem, and lets me figure out my own solutions. Deep Work is written more like an extended blog post, and is more prescriptive, to its detriment. Ultimately, though, both these books confirm what I've intuitively believed to be true, and what Mr. Money Mustache is always pointing out: A slow life is better than a fast one. Doing fewer things, but with more breaks in the middle, more walks in nature, more contemplation, better sleep, is a better life choice than the alternative. Or, as my compatriot Mr. Mohandas Gandhi once said: There is more to life than increasing its speed.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2018, 06:11:57 AM by exergy »


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Re: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
« Reply #1 on: August 21, 2018, 01:25:13 PM »
Thanks for the recommendation.  It's now on my reading list.  While looking for it on my library's website I see he has a few other interesting sounding books.  One is entitled "Utopia is Creepy".    With a title like that I gotta take a look...