During this post I will be looking in detail at the opening of Carr’s book, ‘The Shallows’ (2010) and analysing what he says in order to help understand in light of my own interest and enquiry. I will also spend some time discussing some of John Naughton’s articles. Naughton is a journalist and author who writes in the technology column for ‘The Guradian’ online and provides some fascinating and thought provoking insights into my area of interest.
It is early on in his book that Carr makes evidence of how easy it is for him to find very particular and rewarding information online with great ease. He discusses his experience with the Internet in the last 10 years and explains how it has changed the way his brain receives information. He states that he used to be able to naturally traverse through pages and pages of books with ease, immersing himself in the text and most importantly processing the information. However he identifies that now he will find his mind wondering off and states “Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two.” (Carr 2010: 14). Carr argues that it is his obsession and reliance on the Internet that has caused this change. He states that the net is a tool which houses an abundance of information but because of its infrastructure, we find ourselves loosely skipping from link to link, page to page, intercepting small pieces of information which is often not thoroughly developed. It is this concept that he ultimately argues is the result of us living in ‘the shallows’ of a medium which has the ability for so much more to be utilised. Although the concept of the World Wide Web is the reality of Bush’s idea of the Memex (1945), it would seem as though Nelsons Project Xanadu (1960) would be more appropriate in light of the problems Carr establishes.
He passionately states how important the Internet is to him and how his life essentially revolves around this newfound medium; whether it be for professional assistance, for his own pursuit of enjoyment or even trivial activity, citing common tasks such as paying bills, following headlines and Facebook updates or just skimming between links. It is here Carr makes a strong statement which sets up for his forthcoming argument. Carr argues that the advantages of having immediacy at our fingertips are numerous and he rightfully acknowledges the stature of the Internet and claims “that for society as a whole the Net has become […] the communication and information medium of choice.” (Carr 2010: 18).
However Carr goes onto immediately acknowledge the Internet’s flaws, or rather so the one which he is bringing attention to in this book. Prior to fully introducing his concern however he very effectively embeds his argument in the supporting context of Marshall McLuhan by giving the reader an insight into his ideas which supports what relevance this will have to the proceeding argument. He is very precise with his examination of McLuhan’s concept, highlighting how media are not just channels of information; they provide the content of thought, but they also format the process of thought. Straight away this gives Carr an assertion of authority and relevance to his argument that he can link his own ideas to an extremely prominent figure in McLuhan.
Moving forward, Carr polemically argues that the Internet is having detrimental effects on his mind and his ability to think, learn, understand and intercept and process information. Furthermore he claims that this feeling extends to when he is away from the computer; it has changed his cognitive behaviour even away from the screen. Carr believes that his profound use of the Internet has reprogrammed the way his brain works.
At this point it would be beneficial to introduce Mark Prensky who is an author and public speaker on learning and education and so much of his material is very relevant towards my project. Prensky identifies in his papers, ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (above) that the consumption of media has drastically changed with today’s young generation. He clearly points out that the current students are the first generation to grow up completely immersed in digital technology, arguing that it is integral to their lives. As a result of this Prensky recognises significant change and argues that these individuals think and process information with fundamental difference to their predecessors. He further contends that because of their differing experiences and as a result of how they grew up it is very likely that their brains are physically different.
Moving back to Carr, he continues to argue that the net is chipping away at his capacity to concentrate and excogitate; he explains that he is now accustomed to receive and understand information in the way the net distributes it – in a quick moving, skimming nature, consuming small parts of relevant information. Carr also contends that the web is a place to be easily distracted and to procrastinate, and this combined with the method of our consumption of information is making it increasingly hard to stay focused and to concentrate.
Carr exerts his point by discussing the experience of other individuals who have expertise on the subject at matter. Bruce Friedman, a pathologist at the University of Michigan and Phillip Davis, a doctoral student at Cornell University both concur that the Internet is altering their mental habits. They recall how their patience and concentration is lost with long articles of text with Davis claiming that there are far more effective ways to digest information than through books. They support Carr’s arguments and help encourage his passionate exploration into how the Internet is changing the way we think. By including short passages from these well respected and authoritative individuals Carr is surrounding his points in an embodiment of sharp and to the point statements to extrude greater understanding of this concept which can be expressed to the reader. As a result of this collaborative material, there is strong support for the recurring pattern that we are a species that no longer learns in a linear fashion. Furthermore Carr argues that because of the sheer wealth of content that is available to us, we are immediately at the forefront of whatever information it is we require as well as being amidst an abundance of overwhelming choice.
It is very important to recognise that Carr does well to support his argument by including accounts of other opinions that further his own, especially from authoritative figures. Carr’s writing is very easy to follow and rather than sternly point out arguments and heavily push forward these notions with a desperate appeal for acceptance he merely guides us through his own experience and therefore it is essential to understand that Carr’s point is not literature of hard proven facts. None the less, his argument is still very prominent and obvious, and he does well to convince the reader through his subtle language and tone. This however is very much part of the fulfilment from reading The Shallows; in the sense that there becomes a point in which you reflect on your own relationship with the Internet and can somewhat agree. It reveals to the reader a moment of realisation, an epiphany where you can accept what Carr is so passionately arguing about or at least understand and appreciate his idea.
Furthermore he gives great context to his arguments. In particular he makes example of how German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche found his writing altered when he began using a typewriter. His style reflected the change in the medium which is what Carr argues the Internet does. Carr’s concept of the effects the Internet has on our ability to read and concentrate is very applicable to my project in the sense I am looking at the distribution of information via the Internet and the way it is received. Furthermore, the argument that he puts forth is very central to the whole of my studies and it is something that I can agree with. The Internet is my medium for all sources of information, and I too find myself having similar experiences to those Carr expresses and this observation is something I find fascinating in light of Carr’s arguments.
John Naughton looks at Nicholas Car’s article from the Atlantic, ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid’. Here Carr talks very similarly about the experiences he mentions prior to writing The Shallows. One extract I would like to bring attention to however is this:
“Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.” (Carr, N 2008).
I think Carr’s acknowledgement of this fact is very intriguing and important in the sense of his argument about his struggle to absorb information. In reference to the title of his paper (‘Is Google Making Us Stupid’) it is important to highlight at this point that Carr was not specifically targeting ‘Google’ but rather the impact ubiquitous networking is having on our cognition Naughton brings in opinion from other individuals who are experts in their own field to support his own ideas and it is this aspect which is of great interest to me. This works very well and provides input from writers, critics, psychiatrists, neuroscientists and neurobiologists. As a result of this, Naughton has developed an article which considers points from other disciplines which really helps readers develop a greater understanding to the subject at matter and ensure his own ideas excel.
In particular interest to my study it is useful to read Colin Blakemore’s statement, (a neurobiologist) who claims that “we should be concerned about the potentially addictive, corrupting and radicalising influence of the Internet.” (Blakemore, C in Naughton, J 2010). This statement furthers the arguments that whilst the Internet hosts the potential to inform and educate us, it can in fact having detrimental effects on our cognitive process because of the type of information we digest; and this is ultimately reshaping our natural ability to strive upon improving our intelligence with maximum efficiency.
This detailed look into Carr’s work has been very beneficial and is a great starting point to develop my insight into the implications of the internet as a tool for learning. Briefly looking at Prenskey and Naughton has been very helpful too as I have really been able to extend my own ideas by considering what they have said.
I think this is a good start to summarize my initial inspiration and whilst I will continue doing more general research on the overview of this topic, I want to start being more specific in what I am looking at. Therefore I will review those 10 points/arguments/implications (19/3/15) and group them into 3 or 4 main areas and then continue my research around those as this will form the main basis for my works content. I think so far I have established a deep and thorough insight into the historical context of the World Wide Web as a hypertext, and related this very well to my own interest for my project. However I think at a later stage it could be worth looking into more detail at this area and the importance of previous examples and inspirations of early Hypertexts and data storing and collection systems.
Figure 1. Carr, N. (2010) ‘The Shallows’. Image available at: https://screeninculture.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/1d4ae-picture1.png [Accessed on 21/03/15]
Figure 2. Prenskey, M. (2001) ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’. Image available at: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/10748120110424816 [Accessed on 21/03/15]
Figure 3. ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ Image available at: http://unplugyourclass.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Is_Google_making_us_Stupid.jpg [Accessed on 21/03/15]
Carr, N. (2010) ‘The Shallows.’ London: Atlantic Books.
Carr, N. (2008) ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ The Atlantic [online] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ [Accessed on 21/03/15]
Naughton, J, The Guardian. (2010) The internet: is it changing the way we think? [online] Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/15/internet-brain-neuroscience-debate [Accessed on 21/03/15]
Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. [online] Emerald Insight 9(5) September. pp. 1-6. Available at: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/10748120110424816 [Accessed on 21/03/15]