The Internet has given us gifts straight from a sci-fi novel: information at the click of a button; the ability to communicate with anyone anytime; the unbridled joy that comes with watching a cat play the keyboard.
Though it’s not as obvious, the Internet has also changed us neurologically, affecting our reading habits and our concentration. Not all of this is for the better, especially since our reliance on the Net is depriving us of the glorious ability to think deeply. So explains Nicholas Carr in his outstanding new book, The Shallows. In measured, calm prose, Carr (who, yes, uses the Internet) interprets a staggering amount of scientific evidence and social history to show how we shouldn’t allow the Internet and its accompanying practices to dictate our lives.
Carr’s goal is to raise awareness, which he does with gentle eloquence, making it more inviting to digest the eye-opening studies. You know how you pride yourself on answering emails while messaging your friends and finishing that work project? You shouldn’t. Carr shares this insight from neuroscientist and multitasking expert David Meyer: “You can train until you’re blue in the face and you’d never be as good [at multitasking] as if you just focused on one thing at a time.” Meanwhile, looking at the Internet as a replacement for memory is ill-advised. “We don’t constrain our mental power when we store new long-term memories,” Carr writes. “We strengthen them.”
The Shallows is so much more than a shrewd, compelling overview of how an ever-changing, always growing technology has changed us. It’s a reminder that there are benefits to being our old, boring, pen-and-paper selves. “Of all the sacrifices we make when we devote ourselves to the Internet as our universal medium, the greatest is likely to be the wealth of connections within our own minds,” Carr writes. Stepping away from the screen will become crucial as the Internet becomes a bigger part of what we do and, scarily, who we are. It’s not too late to emerge from the online haze.