The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Feast of St Salome the Holy Myrrhbearer
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Carr__The_Shallows_Square.jpgTAKE SERIOUSLY the subtitle of this book: Carr’s fascination with recent brain research threads continuously through all the excursions and speculations he offers. The key to many of Carr’s convictions is the increasingly important role of neuroplasticity in scientific descriptions of brain structure (go ahead and toss off the term at your next cocktail party, because its implications measure up to its fancy dress). It describes the way our brains shape themselves according to repeated incoming stimuli. Consequent experiments extend this phenomenon to more subtle habits of accessing knowledge of the world, like reading. Carr, whose livelihood involved Internet research and writing, noticed that the concentration needed for reading a physical book was becoming increasingly difficult, prompting his investigation of the neurological impact of the Internet. With riveting brilliance, Carr claims that electronic reading, with all its hyperlinks and brightly-colored distractions, lights up the frontal cortex of our brains where short-term memory processes immediate experience, while reading conventional books exercises a different, deeper part of the brain associated with long-term memory. Referencing sources ranging from Plato to St Isaac the Syrian to Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong, and “digressing” on topics like Google and its (chilling) “moon shot” project of Google Book Search, Carr holds that our current transition from reading ink on paper to electronic print is as epochal as that from “orality to literacy” – but much more ominous for the future of human intelligence.

276 pp. paper $15.95

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