Monthly Archives: October 2010


Joe’s #13-The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brain

I love to read. Apart from blogging here about books, I also blog a few other places about what I read. The problem is of course, having money to read. Books are not cheap and I am not saying that they should be, I’m just pointing out that occasionally, a book reader has to make choices.  There are books I only buy when they are on sale, at a used book store or other such reduced price venue. Occasionally, I want to read a book that I simply cannot justify buying. More accurately, I want to use my book money on other books and I’m not sure if I want to dip into my emergency book fund money to purchase this book. So, I go to Barnes & Nobles and I read the book there. I start out just skimming chapters. Kind of reading it piece meal. Then I read some online reviews of the book. If by this point, I’m still not sure I want to buy the book but I am sure I want to continue reading it, I will continue my Barnes & Noble approach over a period of time.

This is what I did with the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I had two separate people recommend it in real life (one liked it, one hated it) and I have read reviews of it on a few other book review blogs.
The short of it is that I am not a fan of Mr. Carr’s book. As a therapist, I believe that the foundation of his argument is built on either debatable science or science that contradicts his point.

He talks about “the Flynn effect,” which is the name given for the fact that our raw IQ scores have constantly been going up.  Later, the same scientist who made this discovery realized that simply because those scores are going up doesn’t mean that we are actually smarter or that our brains are better, they are simply different.  He then goes on to  lay out his case that short snippets of internet surfing make our brain “dumber” not just different. Well, why is one only different, not better or worse, while the other is not just different but worse?  It makes no sense. It is an incongruous argument at best.

Much of the research that he quotes is not peer-reviewed as he would like to make the reader think it is. Yes, I looked up more than one article. Even the ones that are peer-reviewed don’t seem to support his hypotheses all that much. The book is full of anecdotal evidence, not research. That’s OK, if this book is going to be pitched as his idea and not some sort of science book. His arguments ring hallow and tired when you realize that they are the same sort of arguments used against TV, radio, and even music itself throughout various stages of history.

The last thing that he did that drove me nuts was his use of subjective statements given as though they were objective. For instance, his chapter on Google is supposed to be the money chapter of the whole book (proponents all seemed to mention this chapter as being worth the price of admission on its own) but I found so many distraction subjective statements that it made reading intolerable.  For instance he says, “

By freeing us from the struggle of decoding text, that form that writing came to take on a page of paper, parchment or paper enabled us to become deep readers, to turn our attention, and our brain power, to the interpretation of meaning. With writing on the screen, we’re still able to decode text quickly—we read, if anything better than ever—but we’re no longer guided toward a deep,  personally constructed understanding of the text’s connotations. Instead we’re hurried off toward another bit of related information, and the another, and another. The strip-mining of  ‘relevant content’ replaces the slow excavation of meaning. (I don’t have the page number because I took a picture of the text on my blackberry)

Do you see what’s missing in this highly subjective statement? It’s missing any grounding at all in a cited source or research.  This entire book is based upon an article that the author wrote because he came to the conclusion that he could no longer read deeply because he had trained his mind to read news snippets and blasts, chasing each new link. He came to this conclusion on his own. I wonder, did Mr. Carr stop reading books during this time because he decided to allocate his time differently? Did he age? Could that have had an impact on his ability to “read deeply?” Did he go through a medical issue? Did he have a troubling life event occur?

In fact, the entire premise of the book is based on a rather subjective term; namely the term, “deeply.” What does that mean? When did Mr. Carr’s ability to read “deeply” begin  to slide?  There are numerous other potential answers to the cause of this loss that may have nothing to do with the internet at all. Perhaps, it was something as simple as he just needed to start reading “deeply” again.

This book will not make it to my shelf as it seems to be a rather agenda driven book that lacks real substance beyond the author’s unqualified opinion. In the end, Mr. Carr didn’t really convince me at all that he knows what the internet is doing to our brain or if I should be concerned about it all.

I’d give it 2 out of 5 stars.


Ron’s #38: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

I’m not too much into leadership books. I’ve read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People a few years ago, so I’m good, right?

Mark read Switch and kept telling me stories from it. I liked the premise of how to get people to switch the way they are currently doing something into a better way. To simplify, this book is about getting people to do things you want them to do when they do not want to. (If Mark gave me this synopsis, I’d have thought it was a book on mentalism or hypnotics). This book is filled with story after story with how change occurs, whether in business, government, or education. As a teacher, I thought I could use a bit of help in motivating students to switch their current ways.

The brothers Chip and Dan Heath use the image of the Rider and an Elephant on a Path as the metaphor of the book. The Rider is our rational side and the Elephant represents our emotional side. Switch is about how to appeals to both to have the Rider guide the Elephant down a designated Path. While I didn’t always understand the distinction between the Rider and the Elephant, I gained a great deal of information and confidence in motivating others, especially in the classroom. Here are some “bright spots” that I learned that I will apply to my teaching:

Follow the Bright Spots: Find out what is working and highlight it. This application is clear for the classroom. Rather than focusing on negative behavior (as teachers are quicker to address), find those moments/behaviors when students are doing excellent work. Also, talk to other teachers to find what others do with a particular problem student (or problem issue such as apathy or low skills).

Script the Critical Moves: Instead of finding the big picture or a major goal, find a small behavior that will get the Rider moving. Rather than telling a non-writer to work on the essay, the critical move may be to write a six-sentence paragraph.  This is manageable.

Find the Feeling: Connect to the emotional side of people rather than merely the intellect. How can I address students so that they hear me with their guts? (Please forgive the mixed metaphor!).

Shrink the Change: This is similar to Scripting the Critical Moves, but it provides the feeling of success in smaller, bite-sized pieces. These small victories provide students with the confidence to move on to the next step. I remember a teacher I worked with at Turnaround School in Portland who would address an angry student yelling about not being able to do the math. Barb would bend down at eye-level and ask, “If you can’t do this, what can you do?” The kid will say that he can do three problems, and Barb would watch and praise. Her technique always stuck with me, even if I don’t always use it.

Tweak the Environment: The Heath boys state that behavior will change when we change the environment. What is the environment of my classroom? Is there something that is in the air that allows kids to give up or not try? Is there an expectation to pass the class? This is an area that I should ask a trusted colleague or even a few sharp students for feedback. There were a few excellent stories in the book about how teachers and principals altered the environment to make gains in student success.

I enjoyed this book, and I think you will as well, no matter your career. I think the authors did a fine job giving examples across a spectrum of careers, so there are stories in here for you. I hope that after I print off the Switch one-page overview (see ) and post near my desk, I’ll be reminded how to help students who are currently resisting change.

And if the principles in this book do not work, I’m dusting off How to Win Friends and Influencing People and giving that a try!


Marks #35 – Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches by Russell Moore (232 pages)

One of the areas in the American church where God seems to be moving powerfully is in calling Christian families to pursue and support adoption.   I could be wrong, I don’t know about the actual numbers, but it seems from my limited  experience and friendships that many have gone down or begun the adoption journey – to which I say praise God.

Though I bought this book on the review and recommendation of blogger Tim Challies, both my wife and Ron Coia read the book before I did (read his review for more insight).   The catalyst for me to read the book came while preparing a message in a sermon series on the book of Galatians.  At the beginning of Galatians 4, Paul explains how as Christians, we are all adopted by God into His family and are consequently heirs to the family inheritance.   This was one of my favorite messages to give, and I owe a lot of the insight and illustrations to Russell Moore and this book.

I would encourage all Christians to read this book, to both understand earthly adoption and our heavenly adoption.


Mark’s #34 – Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy Keller (210 pages)

Timothy Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  He’s well known for being a leader in cultural engagement, philosophical thought (see his book Reason For God) and gospel grounded sermons and books.

As the title suggests, Counterfeit Gods deals with many of the most prominent idols both individually and culturally that 21st century Americans have embraced such as romantic love, money, success, power, and others.   Keller exposes each of these idols using both contemporary examples and biblical illustrations.  He shows, as Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.”

The problem with all of our idols is that, because they are counterfeit gods, they can not hold up to the weight of god like status in our lives… For example, eventually money will fail to deliver on it’s promise of security and happiness.

I appreciate Keller’s writing style and clarity.   More than this, I particularly appreciate the way he is able to guide the reader back to the heart of gospel as our only source of hope in this life.

Unfortunately, or rather thankfully,  reading a whole book on idolatry personally served to expose many of my deep-seated idols that I still cling to for various reasons…  May God grant me the faith to continually turn back to cross and look upon Him who alone is faithful to deliver on all His promises.


Ron’s #37: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

After watching the movie version of High Fidelity this weekend for the umpteenth time, I decided to reread the book. I “read” the book via audio book ten years ago or so, and I loved it as much then as I did today. High Fidelity is an excellent novel about music, relationships, disconnection, and hope. The New Yorker raves that “It is rare that a book so hilarious is also so sharp about sex and manliness, memory and music.”

Rob Fleming is a 35-year-old music aficionado/snob. He owns Championship Vinyl, and works with Barry and Dick, paler versions of Rob with an equally prodigious knowledge of decades worth of pop music. The story begins with Rob’s girlfriend, Laura, moving out and leaving him to his records and snarky criticism. Rob drifts and floats his way through the next few weeks as he tries to find connections to something or someone, while facing his own emptiness that pop tunes cannot fill.

Rob, Barry, and Dick are consummate list-makers, creating the Top Five Songs for a Monday Morning, Top Five Songs about Death, and Top Five Artists that Must Be Killed When the Music Revolution Happens (U2 is on that list). They have better taste in music than most anyone else, and they are not shy about that fact. Rob says that he came to the conclusion that it is more important what you like than it is what you are like.

I’m not a music collector, but there is something to relate to in my book collecting that makes me really connect to this story. I feel that I can relate to the passion Rob show towards what seems to be meaningless and trivial stuff (band lineups, cover versions, imported singles). I like their everyday obsessiveness about records and music, and after reading it, I want to download some of the songs mentioned. (Sidenote: If I had time, I would create an iMix on iTunes of all the songs mentioned in this book.]

This is the fourth or fifth book of Nick Hornby’s that I’ve read, and I love his style and swag in dialogue. His prose would be a perfect example to show students the important of voice in writing, if it weren’t for all the swearing.

The movie version of this book is excellent as well. John Cusack is one of my favorites, and he captures Rob perfectly. Much of it, I like better than the book, mainly because they moved the location from London to Chicago. Stories just sound better in the U. S. of A. I didn’t understand many of the references, places, or phrases in the book, even with digesting the BBC version of The Office and Extras.

Coincidence: One of the main songs of the book is Solomon Burke’s “Got to Get You Off My Mind,” and Burke just died yesterday. I hope that it had nothing to do with my reading this book, although this wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.

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