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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

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A Summary with Pros & Cons of
“The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains”
Written By Nicholas Carr
Summarized By Sarah Clark
Information Systems for Management
Summer 2013

At first glance of this book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” I started to get the overall impression that the author, Nicholas Carr, was totally opposed to idea of technology. As a lover of technology myself, I dreaded reading this book because I thought that it was going to be a negative interpretation of technology. And while this book doesn’t exactly shed the most positive light on that subject, I’ve started to understand the overall views of Mr. Carr and identify with them as well. The book, not necessarily a discouragement of technology, but rather an explanation of how our brain operates with the constant technological noise that we are surrounded in day in and day out, comes from the authors own personal experiences. He states in the beginning of the book how he started noticing that he was having concentration problems and constantly felt the urge to check his phone, email, or blogs to stay abreast on the most current information. He started to wonder why? Why wasn’t he able to pay attention for longer than 5 or ten minutes? Why wasn’t he able to develop deep focus? Eventually he determined that it was because of the patterns with in our mind and how they have adapted with the constant flow of technology around us every day. The book focuses on a contrast of two technologies, being that of a book and the internet. He states that a book uses your concentration and allows you to go deep into thought, while the internet is a total opposite with constant stimuli and distractions. Seeing as how these two technologies are totally different, there are obviously pros and cons to what each are doing to our brain. Starting with the pros, technology is a very good and productive thing. Nicholas stated that because of the constant use of internet in our daily lives, people tend to have an increase in visual activity, as well as hand/eye coordination. Our short term memories are constantly being exercised because of the high volume of data we look at throughout a short time span, meaning that we are expanding out short term memory as well. As a society the internet has virtually changed the way that we communicate as well. Cell phones and instant messaging means that we can get what we need sooner. We are more productive, more informed, and more entertained than ever and it feels great! The author stated that human beings crave new information and that the internet is a quite satisfying way of doing so. As a con, the internet is a constant distraction. Whereas people once read books for information, people now read from the internet and in shorter text amounts. This means that it’s getting harder and harder for our minds to develop deep, complex thoughts. It’s getting hard and harder for us to focus as well. The book was once thought to be a form of art and was an area in which people could leave the world behind and dive into without being scattered in thought. The author states that by constantly using the internet and the short term information it provides, we are bypassing those mental processes which are used to develop deep, broad, and conceptual thoughts. It’s also bad for our long term memory, mostly because we rarely get the chance to exercise it due to our interest in that of the short term. Studies were done with hyperlinks in which people were tested on their memory based upon how many hyperlinks interrupted them during a reading of a text. It was shown that the more interruptions, being the hyperlinks, the less information that was retained at the end by the person reading the text. This proves that the constant interruptions that go along with the internet are making an impact on the mental processes within our brains. If you’re thinking by now that perhaps we are doomed as a society because we will never give up our internet, cell phones, and computers then here is some good news for you: our brains have the ability to adapt. Although the author is not a doctor, he has expressed that there is knowledge out there to show that our brains have what is called plasticity. Plasticity is the ability for our brains to develop and change as we change in life. This means that we can control our mental ability. I think that the overall goal of the author was to show that there are both pros and cons to technology. It’s important for everyone to exercise their brains on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s a good idea to sit down and read a book from time to time. Or better yet, perhaps it’s a good idea to disconnect from the world for a little while and just sit and day dream. Either way, it’s clear that there is a balance that needs to be developed and that’s the point that Nicholas Carr was trying to make.

Book Citation:
Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc, 2011. Print.

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