In his book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” Nicholas Carr explores the ways in which our online existence is rewiring our minds, replacing deep thought with information overload, and overruling attentiveness with a steady stream of interruptions and distractions. This saturation of technology, he says, is affecting us at the cellular level and turning us into what one researcher terms “suckers for irrelevancy.” Carr brought this message to a large — and attentive — audience at Tilton Hall Monday (Oct. 18) as the featured speaker in the President’s Lecture series, part of the Fall 2010 Difficult Dialogues program.
Click here to read the Worcester Telegram & Gazette story on Carr’s visit to Clark.
Carr was inspired to write his book, which originated from his 2008 Atlantic magazine article titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, by a “sense of rebellion” against the computers, cell phones, Blackberries and other digital devices that he said were designed to serve their users, but instead have come to master them. He traces how new intellectual technologies introduced throughout history have promoted abstract thought, scientific experimentation, and, with the invention of the Gutenberg press and hence the book, attentive, directed thought.
For more about the Difficult Dialogues Fall 2010 symposium “Slowing in a Wired World” and Day of Slowing, click here.
According to Carr, the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away. What we gain from online exposure — connectivity, interactivity, velocity, multiplicity — is counteracted by what we lose — productivity, “deep” creativity, solitary contemplation and reflection, and cultural richness. Carr noted that in the U.S. a person looks at a web page for an average of 21 seconds, workers check their e-mail inboxes 30 to 40 times an hour, and teens send and receive about 3,300 texts a month.
Carr cited a particularly troubling UCLA study that showed our “working memory” — the contents of our consciousness at any one time — is becoming so overloaded, that those thoughts cannot make the transition to our long-term memory, where much of our creativity and critical thinking reside. Because our brains are malleable, he said, this erosive effect persists.