Does ‘The Shallows’ have a deeper meaning?

The Shallows, by Nicholas CarrThe central theme of the book is already clearly stated in the book’s subtitle ‘What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’. Internet, instead of helping us to focus, is turning us into scatterbrains while also killing our memory capacity. This in turn might lead to the the destruction of our culture, the loss of our common believes and values.

Though the author claims that there may be advantages to the changes internet-usage induces in our brains & you have to adapt to the society you live in, this book’s message still is a stern warning to us all: we ARE declining.

Disruptive technology shapes the way we see the world (map, book, …) and so does the internet (especially the WWW with hyperlinks and even more the social media that are eroding our productivity).
From oral to written, from internal to external memory, from public to private introspection: we lose. Our skills for memorizing, our productivity because we crave for continuous interruption, our capacity for introspection, deep reading and deep thought.

And the weird thing about this all is that we don’t even realize this: as data addicts, we gradually turn into a high-speed data-processing machines that simply yearn to be fed. We are feeling smarter when we are surfing, not dumber. So we have fun all the way down – like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome is burning.

In short, I could summarize my reading experience of this book as follows:
+ The introduction to the book was very recognizable: been there, done that. Unfortunately.
+ The bird’s eye view of cultural history & disruptive technology offered me a useful framework.
– But in flagrant contradiction to the author’s claims, this is not a neutral observation. The message is colored and carries a value assessment: We are declining.

But I also shouldn’t withhold from you that the prose in this book holds some perfect gems. What else could one say about phrases such as: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

On the whole the message of this book is rather disturbing as you start observing yourself and realize that Carr is not describing himself but you. Once you also realize that, in brain matters, plasticity is not the same as elasticity, worries really start to set in and this makes you wonder: have I already reached the point of no return? Am I already lost beyond salvation? And for the altruists & parents among us: does this also apply to our children? Or even the Western culture as a whole?

So, in the end, is ‘The Shallows’ nothing more that a superficial summary of internet observations, combined with a short cultural history of the West, perfectly mixed just to scare you? Or does it have a deeper meaning after all?
As a matter of fact, it has: Please be wary of Google, will you?


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