The shallows- what the internet is doing to our brains

I finished this book on the flight to Istanbul today. The book is a continuation of an article from the Atlantic called “Is Google making us stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains”. I never read that article though I think I heard about it a while ago. If you are one of those who cannot go one hour without checking your email, or you use Twitter a lot, or if it is a long time ago since you finished reading a book, maybe you should read this book (or maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t know).

The book’s argument is something I suspected for some time. What it says is that you most probably will not finish reading this blog because it is too long for your twisted stressed shallow brain. You will scan the text for some words and will click on the next link (maybe you already clicked on the one from the Atlantic and disappeared from my blog?). Carr argues that the internet is changing our brain (to the worse in his view) because of its hyperlinked form and fast pace. It is strange because I remember hypertext was created by researchers claiming it was structured according to how our brains worked.

The book starts with the argument that all technology we use changes us as humans. Then it goes on discussing in depth how computers change us. Interesting is the discussion of technologies that help us create new abstractions of reality (clock, map and books are examples) as opposed to technologies that change the physical world (like bridges, trucks, guns). Internet is an abstraction technology in the same way as writing and books.

I liked the book’s discussion of Google’s business model, of ELIZA and AI, the discussion of memory (artificial and human), and in general the philosophical discussions about technology. I also liked (and made sad) by his discussion of how technology affects our human traits like compassion and empathy (just look at the ongoing use of drones by US. I bet American public does not care about them). But I cannot say I totally agree with the author about how bad the internet is. I am sure Carr would have spent ten years or more writing this book if he did not have access to the internet. Carr is also often romantic and is sad about the loss of things that probably never had a meaning (like cursive handwriting that will most probably disappear because we write using computer keyboards. Who cares?). The book is highly recommended, especially for technocrats like myself.

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