Monday, December 06, 2010


I just read Nicholas Carr's new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. Well, actually I didn't read it. I scanned it. I dipped for the crucial nuggets. Two-hundred-and-fifty pages! Who needs it? The message of the book can be reduced to a few paragraphs. Ten minutes. Tops.

And what's the message? That the internet and the new social media have shattered our ability to concentrate, to pay attention for a long time, to read a two-hundred-and-fifty page book, say. Carr quotes a graduate student: "I scroll. I have very little patience for long, drawn-out, nuanced arguments."

So why did he write the book?

Who does he expect will read it?

Our brains are being inexorably re-wired, says Carr. Re-trained to skim and scroll. We hop and jump with hypertext. War and Peace has been made unreadable by the internet, just as the ability to memorize long oral content was made redundant by the invention of movable type.

Is he right? I read Anna Karenina last winter, not quite War and Peace, but almost. I see my grandkids lugging around massive volumes of Harry Potter. But, yep, I did scroll Carr's The Shallows. Maybe it's not that our brains are getting shallower; maybe it's the content we are offered for perusal.

Maybe the message is the message,

Maybe it's not that our brains are changing. Maybe we are simply twittering ourselves into twits.