Nicholas Carr addresses his view of how the internet is affecting society in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains. His goal is to show that the growing use of digital technology and the internet is affecting one’s ability to read, to pay attention, and essentially the structure of the human brain. He argues that the literary value is far greater when gathered from the pages than on a computer screen. The overall changes and advances, according to Carr, has had a negative effect on the brain and essentially is dumbing a nation. Regardless of being involved in the digital age, one has to consider both sides of the argument to truly understand the point that Carr is trying to make.
Carr begins the book explaining how the brain changes continually which requires adapting to both good and bad. This shows that the idea of the human brain is formed once it reaches a certain age and unable to change. Technology before it evolved formed how people acted and thought. Carr used the example of clocks and maps changed how individuals see and understand time and space. Prior to these inventions, individuals had a different way of thinking and analyzing things. It was not clear the true effect that this would have on society.
Carr does not take away of the intellectual value that is available on the internet, it just argues that what is in a book or printed on a page has a much higher value. The probability of a student going to a library to write a research paper is slim to none. He focuses on digital media and how it does not promote cohesive understanding or in depth thinking. It changes one overall memory. He continually uses the metaphor that the computer is like our human brain. In order for it to grow, it has to have continual use and repetition. Using options like technology it prevents us from using our memory and allows us to focus on our personal enjoyments.
With a wealth of information at our fingertips, one would assume knowledge and intellect is right there as well. Carr in all of his arguments of how society has evolved there is a central point that individuals are growing more intelligent. They are able to adjust to things quicker based on what the internet provides. A student can google a top and skim the articles to find out the very minimum information that is necessary to complete the project at hand. Printed literature does not provide equal opportunity for skimming or scanning. This means that there is far more intelligence gained from reading a book than there is from searching the internet. The creation of new technologies can prove to be more convenient or favorable, however it changes how memory is used and the overall perception of intelligence. The tools provided to help with an easier and more efficient education can be hindering more than helping. Because there is a great deal of knowledge to be had that can’t be truly learned on a computer screen.
Carr is not opposed to the usages of internet or digital media. However, he encourages the readers to understand that how the brain works and that using only one medium could greatly deprive the brain of its growth potential. Constant immersion in social media and other internet sites can cause a cycle that also takes away from other important things. This allows the users to think about the good and bad and control their usages. Even though there are specific points where negatives are pointed out, the growth of the internet and its resources are positive for the users.
Carr recalls his suspicion that screen-time was messing with his ability to think. “Over the last few years,” writes Carr, “I’ve had the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. I’m not thinking the way I used to think.” The power of the internet requires letting go of something far more important not only in how one thinks, but with human interactions as well. The scientific facts associated with the logical thoughts clearly show there is a valid concern with the effects of internet.
Carr continually makes reference to the brain and other functions that perhaps the reader can relate to on an easier manner. For example, “Like a steam engine or an electric dynamo, the nervous system was made up of many parts,” writes Carr. “The parts could not change, in shape or function, because that would lead, immediately and inexorably, to the breakdown of the machine.” (Carr) This implies to the reader that changing how we think and function could have a negative effect on the brain, in essence it could completely quit functioning in its entirety. Perhaps an extreme over exaggeration, but the point is clearly made that Carr is trying to get to his reader.
Carr does not simply leave it in that era, he definitely modernizes it, just like the technology that he is debating on. He discusses that neuroscientist have analyzed and studied the soft-tissue in the brain with more advanced diagnostic technologies. In essence this too is a bit of a contradiction. The very means that allows these neuroscientist to analyze the brains are obtained through the advancements in technologies. However, their findings adds some validity to Carr’s overall argument in that it does alter how ones brain functions. Both the sensory and cognitive stimuli is addictive, repetitive, and interactive. The Net,” says Carr, “is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing our attention.” It “seizes our attention only to scatter it.” The way we think is changing because the actual structure of our brains is changing. (Carr) Again referring to the brain and its thought process as a machine of some sorts. As if in a way it has the potential to break or quit functioning in general.
Carr does support his arguments in ways that the reader can understand. He made the reference in his writings to how clocks made individuals aware of time. This is very true. The expansion of resources makes people aware of so many more functions that they were not privy to previously. “The Net is making us smarter,” writes Carr, “only if we define intelligence by the Net’s own standards. If we take a broader and more traditional view of intelligence … we have to come to a different and considerably darker conclusion.” (Carr) This does not mean that using the internet to access Facebook or twitter is doing research to make ones sell smarter. It means that the individual is using the internet for recreational purposes that could eventually pose a negative effect if not utilized correctly. As with anything, moderation and at times adult supervision is necessary for the best outcome or results.
The power of the internet requires letting go of something far more important not only in how one thinks, but with human interactions as well. The scientific facts associated with the logical thoughts clearly show there is a valid concern with the negative effects that the internet can cause. The time spent on the internet versus what the user can gain ultimately changes how we function in general. Less physical interaction, less physical work, and more internet usage actually changes how the human brain functions and operates. It is important to consider the potential negative repercussions that can occur as a result of changing technology and how one’s mind adapts to it.
- Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. 2010. Print.