The Shallows

What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
by Nicholas Carr | W. W. Norton & Company © 2011 · 304 pages

Wondering what the Internet is doing to our brains? Then I think you’ll love The Shallows. It’s a fascinating, well-researched, brilliant book. Big Ideas we explore include a quick look at the neuroscience of just how “massively plastic” our brains are, the hungry gremlins in your brain, how hyperlinks decrease retention, and young vs. old brains.

Between the intellectual and behavioral guardrails set by our genetic code, the road is wide, and we hold the steering wheel. Through what we do and how we do it—moment to moment, day by day, consciously or unconsciously—we alter the chemical flows in our synapses and change our brains.
Nicholas Carr

“We seem to have arrived, as McLuhan said we would, at an important juncture in our intellectual and cultural history, a moment of transition between two very different modes of thinking. What we’re trading away in return for the riches of the Net—and only a curmudgeon would refuse to see the riches—is what Karp calls ‘our old linear thought process.’ Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better. John Batelle, a onetime magazine editor and journalism professor who now runs an online advertising syndicate, has described the intellectual fission he experiences when skittered across Web pages: ‘When I am performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am ‘feeling’ my brain light up, I [am] ‘feeling like I’m getting smarter.’ Most of us have experienced similar sensations while online. The feelings are intoxicating—so much so that they can distract us from the Net’s deeper cognitive consequences.

For the last five centuries, ever since Gutenberg’s printing press made book reading a popular pursuit, the linear, literary mind has been at the center of art, science, and society. As supple as it is subtle, it’s been the imaginative mind of the Renaissance, the rational mind of the Enlightenment, the inventive mind of the Industrial Revolution, even the subversive mind of Modernism. It may soon be yesterday’s mind.”

~ Nicholas Carr from The Shallows

Wondering what the Internet is doing to our brains?

Then I think you’ll love The Shallows. It’s a fascinating, well-researched, brilliant book by Nicholas Carr. (Get a copy here.)

I was introduced to it by Cal Newport who references the book a number of times in his Deep Work (see Notes) that I come back to often these days. (Especially in Masterpiece Days 101.)

As Nicholas and Cal argue, unfortunately, most of us spend most of our time in The Shallows and we’d be wise to note just how profoundly the Internet is changing our brains.

The book is packed with Big Ideas. I’m excited to share a few of my favorites so let’s jump in!

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About the author


Nicholas Carr

Writes about technology and culture.