This book is all about Understanding Media (McLulan), a book more talked about then read, says Carr. I suspect this is the case for many more books. The medium is the message: whenever a new medium comes along, people get caught in the information
it carries. More importantly: in the long run it influences how we think and act.
Carr is rightfully concerned by the impact of the Net. Good question: is culture being democratized or is it being dumbed down? And have we arrived at a moment of transition between two different modes of thinking? Carr has done some deep thinking (and research) himself and wrote this book (and partly rewired his brain). Why: The Net keeps us from thinking deeply or creatively. The web places more pressure on our working memory, and hence obstructs the consolidation of long term memories. It is a technology of forgetfulness.
The process of consolidation of short-term to long-term memories is delicate. When the load exceeds our minds ability to store and process the information, our ability to learn suffers and our understanding remains shallow. True enlightment comes from contemplation and retrospection. But currently our brain, plastic as it is, is adapting to the new situation.
I really liked the references to maps and spatial thinking. Only quoting the cartographic historian Arthur Robinson: “The combination of the reduction of reality and the construct of an analogical space is an attainment in abstract thinking of a very high order indeed, for it enables one to discover structures that would remain known if not mapped”. And writes Carr (like most sentences in this note): We also now know that the changes in the brain spurred by map use could be deployed for other purposes, which helps explain how abstract thinking in general could be promoted by the cartographers’ craft.
Read this book as well if you want to understand how Google, which may yet turn out to be a flash in the pan, is really in the business of distraction; why Augustine was surprised to see a person read in silence and read the truly exquisite “the house of quiet and the world was calm”.
And some great quotes:
Tasks that demand wisdom should not be delegated to computers (Weizenbaum).
Human beings are ashamed to have been born instead of made (G. Anders).
Whenever we turn on a computer we are plunged into an ecosystem of distractiveness (Cory Doctorow).
I would also would hate to see us all get lost into that scripted world; scripted by others that is. Just to be sure: only reading these remarks can be shallow as well. It serves only as a note-to-myself and as an invitation to some deep thinking. By reading The Shallows.