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The Shallows

By: Nicholas Carr

Publisher: WW Norton

Imprint: WW Norton

Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780393339758

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On Sale: | Pages: 288

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Finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction: “Nicholas Carr has written a Silent Spring for the literary mind.”—Michael Agger, Slate “Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways. Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.
In well-researched sections on neuroplasticity (our brain's tendency to constantly change and grow) as well as discussions of the relationship between technology and cultural change, the reading experience, and the influence of Google, Mr. Carr assembles a strong and serious case for looking before we leap.... Mr. Carr has done his homework and he shows how the various technologies we invent to change the world also change us.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At times, Carr throws things at the wall to see what sticks, masking contradictory, or at least paradoxical, claims.... Missing most in this book is a sustained defense of what is being lost.... The achievement of "The Shallows" isn't that it persuades you to give up the Web. Instead, it encourages you to be mindful of your screen time and remember that the Internet is the tool, not you.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Carr brilliantly brings together numerous studies and experiments to support this astounding argument: “With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.”
—Christian Science Monitor
Carr's argument is thought-provoking but a bit breathless.... Carr's contention that the Internet is different is, ultimately, unpersuasive. Even for those of us old enough actually to remember a world before the Internet, it's difficult to imagine a world without it.
—Seattle Times
There is little doubt that the Internet is changing our brain. Everything changes our brain. What Carr neglects to mention, however, is that the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the Internet and related technologies are actually good for the mind.... While Carr tries to ground his argument in the details of modern neuroscience, his most powerful points have nothing do with our plastic cortex. Instead, “The Shallows” is most successful when Carr sticks to cultural criticism, as he documents the losses that accompany the arrival of new technologies.
—New York Times
“The Shallows" grew from a splashy 2008 Atlantic cover story titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Sadly, though, what originated as a provocative and important magazine article has become an unsatisfying book. Yet Carr's central point remains provocative and urgent, and it's worth a serious look.... This is strong stuff. But while Carr does a laudable job synthesizing scientific findings, and making the case for why they matter, the book has crucial flaws. To begin with, Carr devotes most of the book's first half to an overfamiliar history of our media technologies, our “tools of the mind," telling us in great and unoriginal detail what we already know.... But the book has a deeper, more important shortcoming. And that is the weakness of Carr's conclusion — his failure to think through what our response to the situation should be, what our options are.
—Boston Globe
Rather than relying on exhortation and appeal to antiquarian love of tradition, Carr has meticulously and elegantly grounded his thesis in the latest cognitive sciences.... As a book reader's fairy tale, this is a lovely story well-told - an ode to a quieter, less frenetic time when reading was more than skimming and thought was more than mere recitation. However, the hard fact is that electronic reading is here to stay, to advance, to perpetually alter our brains in the same way that all tools alter their owners.
—San Francisco Chronicle
I don't do Twitter, Facebook or Skype. And I did all this digital darting hither and thither even though I found the subject I was supposed to be writing about—Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows"—quite absorbing. And disturbing. We all joke about how the Internet is turning us, and especially our kids, into fast-twitch airheads incapable of profound cogitation. It's no joke, Mr. Carr insists, and he has me persuaded.
—Wall Street Journal
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