Have you noticed a shorter attention span?
Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 8:30PM
Ron Tarro in Books, Internet and Society
(I wrote this review in 2010 I'm pulling it into the blog because I think that the core of this book will end up as a fundamental truth about the internet.  Specifically, Nicolas Carr provides a fascinating argument about how the internet has a physiological effect on you and I.)

The Shallows : What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain. By Nicolas Carr.

Author Nicholas Carr is a heavy internet user. He senses that his time spent online has fundamentally changed how his mind works. This realization drives his work in "The Shallow's". As a preface, Carr is not some dude contemplating his navel on a therapist's couch. He's a Harvard Professor and a serious student of the information technology world. Here's Carr's introductory self assessment:

"I'm not thinking the way I used to think.  I feel it most strongly when I'm reading.  I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article.  My mind would get caught up in the twists of the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose.  That's rarely the case anymore.  Now my concentration starts to drift after a page or two.  I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.  I feel like I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."

You too?  This observation and then a recent interview with the President of Google (Eric Schmidt) is motivating my review of this book.  Schmidt was asked what he worried about.  In his list of worries was the effect of the internet on deep thinking.  I thought "hey that's Carr's point".  Indeed it is.  And this book therefore appears to be a addressing an emerging topic for people who care about information technology, society, and their mental acumen.

This book explores how your surfing of the internet is changing your brain (and yes it apparently does). The book tells you precisely how that's happening. Carr integrates a range of research to illustrate how internet surfing stimulates your brain while actually diminishing what you remember and more generally how it is restructuring (and limiting) your ability to analyze. Carr provides a range of factoids, not least of which is that we all read more slowly (and remember less) on web pages because they contain lots of distractions (specifically advertisements in motion, contrasting color, infinite opportunities to hyperlink, and the ever present "bong" of instant messages and e-mail.) The book drives you toward one overarching conclusion: your brain "on Google" is evolving to be a really excellent information hunter gatherer. However it's not evolving in ways that might allow you to actually do something to integrate and apply that information.  You and I are becoming wide but not deep (ie. we're in "The Shallows").   Meanwhile, Carr also runs through research that shows that a mind marinated in the continuous buzz and distraction of an online lifestyle is slower in grasping the moral dimensions of a problem or situation.  Such a grasp requires quiet contemplative reflection and something increasingly not afforded by the Internet use.
If this review has not focused your attention, here's the book. Read it while you still can! The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains And if you're motivated by Carr, here's his blog called Roughtype.
Article originally appeared on The SalientVoice Journal (http://www.salientvoice.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.