Book Review: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr proposes the following: that the Internet and all of the its shallow content is actually rewiring our brains and how we process information.

the problem also lies with a lot of authors, especially the wordy ones…

I’ll be completely honest–of all the books I read this summer, this was the one I least looked forward to reading and the one I most disagreed with. That said, it’s also the book I learned the most from. The premise of this book is that the Internet is actually changing our brains. One of the things I learned is that our brains have the ability to “rewire” themselves. Based on what we do with our brains on a daily basis, they function in different ways. An example from the book shows that taxi drivers in London have higher development in the areas relating to spatial relations because those parts of the brain are used more often as they navigate London’s complex streets. A second thing I learned from this book is that this rewiring continues throughout our lives. It doesn’t stop once we reach adulthood, and there’s a lot of scientific evidence in the book to back that up … a lot … which brings me to my problem with this book.

One of the author’s main complaints is that the Internet is changing how we think by removing our ability to deeply concentrate and think. Instead, we always remain on the surface with any type of reading. This is where the author and I disagree. While I will concede that some people are losing the ability (and desire) to focus deeply, the problem also lies with a lot of authors, especially the wordy ones. Back when I was in high school, we were assigned to read Moby Dick. At the time I thought it was awful, it was boring, and I never made it through the whole book. Later in life, I decided to try and re-read Moby Dick, and it was still bloody boring and wordy and in need of an editor. If the book was half the size, it might have some value. Compare that with the Old Man and the Sea. Now there’s a story I can recommend. It’s not just that I have a short attention span: after reading Moby Dick, I read Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson, which I loved. It had none of the slow moving wordiness of Moby Dick.

There are some authors (and bloggers) who love the sound of their voices and seeing their words on the printed page or screen. They spend time lovingly crafting each sentence so that the reader can slowly meander through the content at a leisurely pace. Then there are authors like Michael Crichton who cut right to the chase. Most readers prefer one type and, to them, the other will be either boring and wordy or superficial and without any complexity. Its not that I can’t read long books: I reread the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the movies came out a few years ago and read all of the Harry Potter books. I just prefer books that move at a faster pace.

It’s interesting that I read this book right after Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget .The books served as a nice contrast to one another. Is there some truth to the argument that the internet is rewiring our brains?I’ll have to concede yes, but I disagree that it destroys our ability to concentrate long term unless we let it. Speaking from personal experience, I’m reading now more than ever thanks to my iPad. And I’m reading lots of different types of books–see my kindle page as proof.

If you are a reader who likes in-depth prose that has lots of examples and backup information, you’ll love this book. If you are someone who prefers reading books that are direct and to the point, skip this book because you’ll probably hate it.
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