The Shallows: A Review of a Typical Summer Reading Book

Emma Havighorst ‘16, Entertainment Editor

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What is the Internet doing to our brains? Author Nicholas Carr attempts to explain just that—using the science and psychology behind the matter—in his book The Shallows.

The beginning of the book includes an in-depth explanation on neuroplasticity and the way bodies respond to changes in neural bonds and transmissions. He continues on to discuss the development of technology as a whole, from the first spoken word, to clay tablets and papyrus scrolls, to the Gutenberg printing press and the typewriter, and finally, to the modern computer. Carr mentions the ideas of famous philosophers and literary geniuses, quoting their beliefs about the Internet, technology (be it the printing press or the newspaper), and writing as a whole. The Shallows incorporates hundreds of analogies, some accurate, and some that are used to point out logical fallacies in thinking. Nonetheless, it’s a solid 224 pages of learning, whether the reader agrees with Carr’s point of view or not.

What the reader expects to be an enlightening book on the Internet and society turns into a heavy lecture on science and the historical development of technology, from the time that writing was invented until present day. While the book is interesting, it’s hard to get through. Carr circles around his points for paragraphs, sometimes even chapters, until he gets where he wants to go. It’s enlightening, for sure, but I’m not sure how many of us can truly say we had the time to analyze what 18th and 19th century philosophers predicted for the future, especially considering the fact that they were usually incorrect. The science behind the neuroplasticity and how brains adjust for different activities and tools is possibly the most attention-grabbing part of the book—which is not to say it holds a reader’s attention for very long. I was most disappointed with the lack of information on social media sites, and the narrow-sightedness of Carr for focusing on the science of the operation rather than the behavior which results from excessive internet usage.

Readers who are specifically interested in neuroscience should absolutely get this book- for you it is a must-read. For those who are interested specifically in the Internet’s effects, the book is a give and take. After taking a month to get through the book, I would suggest that you read it only if you have time to spare and are able to sit through long-winded histories and explanations of scientific matters. For those of you not interested in science or the Internet, consider not reading The Shallows at all.

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The Shallows: A Review of a Typical Summer Reading Book