The Shallows – a compelling read?


Yesterday at Starkville Woman’s Club, book reviewer Jenny Reed discussed several books she recommends for Christmas gift giving, or just to expand our minds.

The latter mission had me rushing for the library to pick up a copy of “The Shallows” which she noted is a somewhat disturbing look at how the internet is affecting our brains and our lives.


Nicholas Carr’s "The Shallows" examines how the net’s revolving and flashing ads, lists of related content, click-to-play videos, and embedded links are distractions that interfere with our ability to ponder, to think deeply, and to remember the words that follow.

Carr argues convincingly that the brain is shaped (literally) by the repetition of these distractions, and made shallow.  

Reed said she was shocked when caught herself chatting with a friend while playing a non-stop game of internet solitaire.  Are we even capable of doing one thing at a time these days?

In the meantime, Twitter and Facebook feeds us their drips of disruption, letting us beg for our celebrity. But they are fun, and they make us feel like we belong, or at least that we haven’t missed out on something. 

In a review of the book (which of course, I googled) Carr reportedly  spends chapters walking us through a variety of historical experiments and laymen’s explanations on the workings of the brain. He quickly launches into one of the book’s foundations: a deep discussion of neuroplasticity which immediately lost me.

For years, neurologists held that our brain structure doesn’t change much. A breakthrough series of experiments by researcher Michael Merzenich in 1968 showed definitively that brain structure does, in fact, change; like plastic.

As biologist Eric Kandel demonstrated, neurons work together to form paths, and neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran’s experiments on amputees showed how neural pathways formed over a lifetime can slowly rewire themselves in the form of phantom limbs.

The linkage that Carr is building, of course, is that the Web and Web tools we use today are starting to form neural pathways in our plastic brains, shaping what and how we think. Beyond providing an overview of the science of the brain, Carr shows how our brains have been shaped or reshaped.  Interesting.

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