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Much of the research that he quotes is not peer-reviewed as he would like to make the reader think it is.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.

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