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Do you ever lose focus while reading? Find yourself constantly on your phone scrolling through emails, articles, and social feeds?The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains by Nicholas Carr deeply examines the impacting exchange humans are losing when using the Internet. Many people now are unlikely to engage in contemplative, reflective, and deep reading actions because of the highly distractive and addictive internet technologies.
The author establishes his argument using his personal life and how his brain changed using the internet then continues in the second half of the book to explain how intensive use of internet can cause damaging effects. Nicholas Carr effectively portrays the effects of the internet which leads to the question, does the costs out way benefits?
Nicholas Carr uses the prologue: The Watchdog and The Thief to define a new medium and how it affects us. A 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan foresaw that “whenever a new medium comes along people naturally get caught up in the information” (Carr 2). He believed that society will suffer from not being able to participate in “linear thinking” due to the electric media. McLuhan said it clear when he said, “ Our focus on a medium’s content can blind us to these deep effects. ” (Carr 3) and we end up thinking that “technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside. ”
Carr uses this book as a set up to explain the trap that the new medium of internet has trapped us in. The first chapter goes into detail about Carr’s personal introduction to technology and how he noticed it changed his thinking. Carr makes an early connection to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey where a supercomputer HAL attempt to kill human astronauts it has been working with. The astronauts in response unplug HAL that sparks the super computer to weep, “My mind is going, I can feel it”.
This may be a similar feeling to what we are feeling. Feeling rewired using the internet while part of our mental capabilities vanish and without the internet we feel like HAL, being unplugged. A main discussion has been brought to light about people’s shortening of sustained focus due to the way we use the internet. The way we skim and quickly gather information through the internet has hindered people to be able to read longer, more linear, text like books and articles. 6,000 kids were studied who grew up through the internet which they discovered they disregarded the traditional reading methodology and rather tried to scan the page for the most important information. Comparing a short text online or reading large book, skimming may work for the internet, but long sustained left to right linear thinking is required for larger text.
The Vital Paths is an important chapter because it goes in-depth about the discovery of Neuroplasticity, which Carr starts by explaining a story about how minds can be shaped. A writer by the name of Fredrick Nietzsche had some health problems. These complications resulted in headaches and nausea when he wrote for long periods. To get by he replaced traditional pen and paper for a typewriter. The typewriter removed the barriers when writing with pen and paper, but this change resulted in a change is his writing style. Carr states Nietzsche’s writing “had become tighter, more telegraphic. ”
Michael Merzenich mapped brain functions by interfacing electrodes with monkey brains then noting the electrodes fired when the monkey’s various bodily nerves were stimulated. This then opened way to proving that the brain is malleable, and the brain can restructure for long term cognitive changes. Neuroplasticity is a component of the body that allows it to heal but also leads to life changing adaptation to an environment. The example of a monkey given a simple pair of pliers or a rake shows the monkey’s brain show brain expansion and defining circuits to use the tools.
The monkey is finding out how to use the tool as an extension of the hand just comparable to how we use the internet and use it as a tool. Going into the third chapter, Tools of the Mind, dives into the overview of technologies that have reshaped the mind. All technologies fit into four categories: Physical Strength, Sensitivity of Senses, Accommodation of Nature, and Cognitive Support. To everything comes pros and cons just like when clocks came about many people before didn’t need a direct time of day to do daily activities or when Socrates thought when the new technology of writing arose above oral tradition would ruin people’s ability to memorize.
He thought that people would only be able to collect data rather than gaining knowledge. What writing has given us is surely valuable. But with new technology comes the consideration of what we lost and perhaps the newest technology, the internet, is worthy of the same consideration. The Deeping Page is all about developments through history in reading and writing which leads to a literate society and inherent neurological changes that comes with these advances. Reading has enhanced our societal progress but more importantly has rewired our brains on a massive scale.
From the beginning, learning to read requires our brains to first process visual shapes to translate to letters then began to read these letters with much less mental effort. Deep Reading has led to three societal impacts: first being deep thinking which is the systematic, linear type of thought. Second is written clarity, ideas began to have increased clarity elegance and originality. Last is private learning where reading became a commonplace. Books allowed knowledge and learning to become silent and private. In addition, learning became based on interests of people.
The next have of the book, Carr dives into the effects with rigorous use of the internet. Starting with Chapter five: Medium of the Most General Nature, shows that due to the way computers and the internet have come up leaded to the shift of new content by the medium. It starts by intruding a man by the name of Alan Turning, the man who broke the Nazi communications during world war II, who imagined a machine that could complete functions. “Alan Turing is best remembered as the creator of an imaginary computing device that anticipated, and served as a blueprint for, the modern computer. ”
Through time and advances the internet has now become that machine. With so many uses people are captured in spending massive amounts of time working with it. Carr used strong evidence to support this claim for instance, “A 2008 international survey of 27,500 adults between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five found that people are spending thirty percent of their leisure time online” (Carr 86) and in 2009, “the average teen was sending or receiving a minf-boggling 2,272 texts a month. (Carr 86) …Chapter six, The Very Image of a Book, explores the movement from physical books to the internet form e-books. In addition, how this transition is reshaping the content and our minds. “As soon as you inject a book with links and connect it to the web—as soon as you ‘extend’ and ‘enhance’ it and make it ‘dynamic’ – you change what it is and you change, as well the experience of reading it. ”
The internet has made its way into the book in what is call an e-book. Fear has come up because the immersive and linear thinking is disappearing as the electronic version of a book is gaining popularity. “A printed is a finished object… The finality of the act of publishing has long instilled in the best and most conscientious writers and editors a desire, even an anxiety, to perfect the works they produce – to write with an eye and an ear toward eternity. Electronic text is impermanent. ” (Carr 107) In these e-books come distracting links and lower incentive for quality. Due to this shift away from print books it has resulted in a loss in importance of linear thinking which follows to the new methodology of scanning for meaning quickly.
The Juggler’s brain dives into detail about the effects the internet is having on users’ minds’ and the studies that have proven these effects. The Juggler’s brain the perfect way to describe how when our full attention is given to the internet we are actually just jumping from one distraction to the next. “When our brain is over taxed, we find ‘distractions more distracting’. ” (Carr 125) The internet limits our working memory (the bridge between short- and long-term memory) which keeps us from retaining content.
A quote form Carr says, “Our use of the internet involves many paradoxes, but the one that promises the have the greatest long-term influence over how we think is this one: the Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. (Carr 118) While reading a book, the brain allows a flow like a river and working memory is able to work. Thus, improving and allowing lots of important information to add up in long-term memory. On the other hand, the internet brings a flash flood of multiple rapids. With this rapid rush of information, we get so overwhelmed with information that it all nearly passes right through us.
The Church of Google, a detailed chapter in the origin of google and evolution leading to the effects of the medium. Google is a company that needs to make money and in order to fill the demand advertisements are placed. The more times someone clicks a link the more money google makes making an incentive to keep us clicking rather than remain on a single page. This block deep learning and it is show in this quote, “it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible.
The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distractions. ” (Carr 157) The internet has led to a domino effect of items leading to skimming as the “correct’ methodology of gathering information. Carr states, “Information overload has become a permanent affliction… The only way to cope is to increase our scanning and skimming” (Carr 170) It is critical to realize the system at which google has set. Not to be harmful but in a way that encourages reward.
The next chapter Search, Memory shows how the net can be a replacement for memory. The use of continuous internet usages not only effects the working memory, but it also plays a part into the decline of importance of our long-term memory. Carr makes an early connection to a thought that Socrates addressed that the transfer from personal comprehension to the printed page. He thought that our retention would not be required anymore and it would all be in data. A quote coming from the end of intro in chapter nine states, “Books and journals, at hand in libraries or on the shelves in private homes, became supplements to the brain’s biological storehouse.
People didn’t have to memorize everything anymore. They could look it up. ” (Carr 177) This same concept can now be applied to the internet. Peter Suderman says it best as he sides with the fact memory is “a waste if time” (qtd in Carr 181) and should “function like a simple index, pointing us to places on the web where we can locate the information we need at the moment we need it” (Carr 181). The view of our world shifts when our brain choices to keep or forget in our long-term memory.
The last chapter of the book titled A Thing Like Me illustrates how we shape tools and how it shapes us. With the use of a newly created tool reduces the human ability to do that skill without the support of the tool. Similarly, using the internet is just like using a tool, it hinders our abilities. Carr uses quotes like “Even as our technologies become extensions of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies” (Carr 209) and “The brighter the software, the dimmer the user” (Carr 216) to explain how this truly hinders these abilities.
Time has changed from when mankind built and made things to interact with people to now interact with machinery. The merge will continue to grow as we see now with Apple’s Siri. A computer program that now called her because of its language capabilities. Said best on page two-hundred and thirteen, “As a universal medium, a supremely versatile extension of our senses, our cognition, and our memory, the networked computer serves as a particularly powerful neural amplifier. ” (Carr 213)
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