The Shallows

This morning I skimmed through
David Mays’ book notes on Nicholas Carr’s relatively new book:

The Shallows.

First I skimmed…and then I went back and read.
It took a third time before I
slowed down and
really read the review.

Mays’ book notes are worth reading in their entirety and he’s convinced me that Carr’s book is worth reading as well….

I’ll just share a few quotes from the review…
And I’ll try to be brief.
And I’ll try to stay within my 20 seconds.
And if you read the review….you’ll see why.

Excerpts from David Mays’ review:

Carr is the author of The Big Switch. He has written for various periodicals. He says, “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.” (116) The Net is rapidly and profoundly altering our brain.

Technologies are not merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and its meaning.” (47, quoting Langdon Winner) “Sometimes our tools do what we tell them to. Other times, we adapt ourselves to our tools’ requirements.” (47) All technologies through history that have influenced how we use information and engage our senses have shaped the physical structure and workings of the human mind. Through what we do and how we do it–moment by moment, day by day, consciously or unconsciously–we alter the chemical flows in our synapses and change our brains.” (49) 

Young readers are abandoning traditional novels because the sentences are too difficult and the stories aren’t familiar to them. (105) Authors will face growing pressures to tailor their words to search engines. “The practice of deep reading that became popular in the wake of Gutenberg’s invention, in which ‘the quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind,’ will continue to fade….” (108) 

“The Net is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention.” (131) “Frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious.” (132) “The near-continuous stream of new information pumped out by the Web also plays to our natural tendency to ‘vastly overvalue what happens to us right now….'” (134)

Most Web pages are viewed for less than 20 seconds. The switch from reading to power-browsing is happening very quickly and it represents a deeper change in our thinking. The digital environment encourages people to explore broadly but at a superficial level. Patience with reading long documents is decreasing. There is a compelling urge to skip ahead. Skimming is becoming the dominant mode of reading. Of course there are compensations, positive aspects of this. Every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.

 One researcher says that the more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem. Learning to multitask is learning to be skillful at a superficial level. “Multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.” (142, quoting Clifford Nass)

We can go further in a car, but we lose the walker’s intimate connection to the land. “The price we pay to assume technology’s power is alienation. The toll can be particularly high with our intellectual technologies. The tools of the mind amplify and in turn numb the most intimate, the most human, of our natural capacities–those for reason, perception, memory, emotion.” (211) “We shouldn’t allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we’ve numbed an essential part of our self.” (212) We may be experiencing a slow erosion of our humanness and out humanity. “It’s not only deep thinking that requires a calm, attentive mind. It’s also empathy and compassion.” (220)       

From me:
This isn’t what I want when I read…online, in books, or especially when I read God’s Word.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…
~Colossians 3:16
It takes time…
Sinking in.
Mulling over.
To let something richly dwell within me.
And I can’t help but wonder…whether this hurried distractedness transfers to other areas as well.
Clearly, the Internet is part of our lives now.
And the irony is that I’m voicing these thoughts in a blog post that will likely be too long for most to finish reading…
For me to finish reading.
But–I do think The Shallows is worth considering–
Because I don’t want to write, or read, or relate, or live in a place of superficiality.
Any thoughts?

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  1. Marilyn–thanks for forwarding Mays’ book notes–I’ve found so many treasures through you (and him) :)

  2. Thanks for sharing – very thought provoking. I don’t want to read that way either.

  3. Oh my gosh Kara! This is so true. And seriously, SERIOUSLY these last few weeks I’ve been inwardly scared to death that I’m getting the early stages of alzheimers. I cannot focus on anytthing and I can’t think a coherent string of thoughts for any length of time… and you know what it is? It’s because the computer is ALWAYS on, ALWAYS distracting me to just sit down for a second between projects or what I’m working on and it’s totally messing up my mind! I know it is because when I shut it off mid-day I feel calmer, more focused, and get more don (or just spend time reading or hanging with my boys without distraction.) I want this book. I’m going to get it because this scares me as much as the thought of using drugs scared me in jr high and high school… thanks for posting this!

  4. I’m hoping to read it to Kari…I felt similarly when I read “Last Child in the Woods”…not from a Christian perspective…but just an good, interesting book that draws connections that are impossible to ignore/explain away.
    Interesting because Justin Taylor posted on a different book with a similar theme this morning (not to draw ya into a blog-reading-marathon :) but–made me think about all this quite a bit this morning.

  5. Thanks for sharing this. I had heard of the book but not put it on my reading list (which multiplies faster than reading time right now).

    In January I got a Kindle because so many of the books I wanted to read weighed to much for me to support for long, but I find the electronic text alters the way I read. It’s excellent for reading a novel, but I seem to have more difficulty processing complex non-fiction where I would normally flip back and forth to review and track the flow of an argument.

    Not exactly what the review describes, but I wonder if it’s related.

    This summary is worth the read whether the full book ever rises to the top of my queue or not. Thank you and God bless your weekend with some time unplugged.

  6. I’m eager to read this book now. Thanks for the good review. I have to admit these are things I’ve thought of. I’m going to put it into practice this coming week.


  7. I read an article a while back on how computer’s are changing our brains. The good news at the end was that Scripture allows us to “renew our minds!” It included studies on how meditating and memorizing Scripture actually changed the brains pathways. Very interesting.

  8. That does sound like an interesting book. It does seem as though life moves so quickly now, and people are less willing to read anything lengthy or to stop and ponder something before moving on to the next web page, tweet, etc.. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to do Twitter. I don’t want to shorten my attention span more than it already is.

  9. I have been thinking along these lines lately myself. I think that’s what I love about blogging. It’s a place to read someone’s deeper reflections rather than just the surface conversations that happen with most people throughout the day. I have not read The Shallows but I agree with the commentary you posted!

  10. It just arrived yesterday Misty…I’ll let ya know what I think. What you wrote is how I WANT to experience the world of blogging…really taking time to read and digest the heart behind the words I read. But sometimes I fall into the trap of just moving quickly through a post, being efficient, skimming…and that’s NOT how I want to live life…skimming.

  11. Good thoughts Kara, I appreciate you writing abotu this topic (& the book – hadn’t heard of it but will have to check it out). Definitely important things to think about. It feels like with more and more options and more and more ways to “skim” through life it is well worth pondering how it is all impacting us personally and in our relationships…

  12. …uh…i didn’t even read the whole blog post…LOL
    can you just feed me the sound bite?
    …uh…what was i doing?

  13. …maybe you can just text me about it

Would love to hear your thoughts...