Book review

By Séamus Smyth

Nicolas Carr’s “The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to our Brains,” explores humankind’s obsession with technology in a heavy, delicious dose of new-wave Neil Postman/Marshall McLuhan that pulls the rolling chair from underneath your feet and forces you to look beyond the digital monitor that has transfixed the eyes of the advanced world.

The book cites top intellectuals in their fields, who seem to all agree that their ability to concentrate has steadily decreased the more they rely on the Internet for information.

Reading a book has become a chore for many, as the task of remaining seated and focused on the archaic scribbling of an old soul has become too much to bear for countless former book worms.

Carr explains how the diminishing use of books has led to individuals skimming the daily news, reviews and articles on the Internet, rather than reading the entries word for word. He cites studies that demonstrate how this new form of information gathering is hurting one’s ability to sufficiently retain memories or any record of what they have just browsed through.

The book shifts perspective every few chapters, jumping from a quick history lesson on how books became popularized, the theories of McLuhan (specifically “the medium is the message,”) and he then explains how he came to the conclusion that his own reliance on technology has reached an alarming height.

He recalled the early days of writing on a computer, when he didn’t feel comfortable editing his work until it was printed off and he could use an old-fashioned HB No.2 pencil.

But this early and awkward transition phase quickly vanished as he began conducting all of life’s daily tasks via the Internet, whether it be ordering groceries, reading the news or ironically, writing “The Shallows.”

As Carr’s complete embrace of the Internet began to recede, he began to take offense to the constant comparison of the brain to a human-created technology.

The way we are “programmed,” or “wired,” are inaccurate descriptions of the human thought tank, because our mind is more complex that we can ever imagine. The mind is not a hard drive or memory stick, but a divine creation of un-parallel potential, that should never be confused with a piece of machinery.

What is concrete about this analysis is that society has failed at examining the potential consequences of introducing new technologies.

Once the animal is unleashed to the masses there is no way to tame it or even modify its influence. Upon completing the compelling codex, I decided to distance myself from the tight grasp of the Net.

It is, after all, our mind that determines how long we choose to indulge in the infinite space of the World Wide Web.

“The Shallows” should be a must-read for the entire generation that have chosen the convenience, and fast-food nature of the Internet over books that have the potential to greatly enlighten the mind, but instead collect dust on library shelves. Of course, the irony of technology becomes abundantly clear with this minor request, because this important entry on how powerful the Internet has become, will only be read by a tiny minority of a depleting breed of intellectuals and theorists.