The Shallows: A Book you Need to Read but Will Disturb You

I get the keys of my van out of my purse, get in the car, start its engine and push the accelerator. Green light, yellow light, red light. A bike. A turn. Keep going straight. A man crossing the street. Red light again. I look through the mirrors. Pass a car. Accelerate. Yellow light. 15 more minutes. I park at home and as if waking up from a dream, I think to myself, “How in the world did I arrive here? I don’t remember the details; I just arrived home, thank God safely, but I drove in “automatic,” not really thinking….

As I read the book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing To Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr, I had the same feeling as that time when I drove my van home in “automatic”, not knowing how it really happened; not knowing how I had arrived there.

In this book, The Shallows,  Carr gives ample proof, quoting from many different authors, doctors, researches, on how our brain, no matter if we are adults, keeps changing. It is still “plastic”. Many new connections are made, and it does change. And he goes on to explain based on his research that maybe we have not change the way we read, for example, but that our way of thinking has changed.

I came up with these questions from the first chapters:

When I am reading a book, does my concentration drifts after a page or two?

The more I use the Web, the more I fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing?

Do I find myself skimming through the books I once would read entirely?

Do I find myself having little patience for long, drawn-out, nuanced arguments?

Carr quotes Karp,

“Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind, is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in a dole out of information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts- the fastest, the better-“

Carr, does not write this book as one who suggests that we should get rid of all technology and go live as Amish in Lancaster, PA. His approach is excellent, engaging, well thought and convincingly. His goal seems to be, to pursue us to do something about the way we decide on how we will interact with technology.

This is an excellent book for everyone of us. It is in fact, a must read. We don’t like to hear how the Web is changing the way we think, the way we read and write. The way we converse and relate to others; We don’t want to read about this because it is really disturbing;  but we must know and understand all this in order to be able to do something about it.

This is a book I would highly recommend for those who love to read and write. It addresses many of the ways our thinking process -related to our reading, writing, memorizing- has been, or is in the process of being altered by the Web.

“In the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us. We have cast our lot with the juggler.”

The Shallows is a book for those of us who at times feel “proud” on how we have managed to be multi-taskers on the Web. The truth is that we are juggling around, and as Carr says,

“The Net seizes our attention only to scatter it.”

“Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle; that’s the intellectual environment  of the Internet.”

“The division of attention demanded by multimedia further strains our cognitive abilities, diminishing our learning and weakening our understanding.”

Carr now quotes Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor  who led a research on multitasking,

“Intensive multitaskers are suckers for irrelevance…everything distracts them.”

In the words of Carr,

“[W]e ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive, Tuning out is not an option many of us would consider.”

For our family, tuning out is not an option. Our children take online classes, I teach online. We use Skype and Facebook to be in touch with many of our friends who live abroad. So what do we do? I pray, God will help me to discipline myself and be more focused. It is hard, it is true, because I do many different things on the Web. From working, to blogging, to keeping in touch with people I love. From listening to my music to looking at yummy recipes and ideas for my home on Pinterest. But, I must and I want to do something about this.

If you decide to read this book, I would love to encourage you to read another one that goes hand on hand with it. An excellent book by Tim Challies: The Next Story. I did not write a review on that one, but it certainly was on my list of favorite books last year.

It is my prayer that God will help me live a wise life. We only have one life which is made of thousands of minutes stringed together, the way I use each one of them really counts.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

9 thoughts on “The Shallows: A Book you Need to Read but Will Disturb You

  1. Hi Becky – thanks so much for posting this- I am going to pick up this book again. One of the things I have noticed that really bothers me is that my three little girls, who have been constantly around the computer because of school and work, have a tendency to expect all of their activity to come from it. They cannot play like my now adult children used to. It would be great to shut it off, but like you much of our livelihood depends on it now. Please keep posting on how your family strikes a balance- we will be praying for ways that we can do the same.

    Love-

    Amy

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  2. This hit home! Sometimes I long for the pre-computer, pre-internet days. It has oh so many blessings, having come to know and love you being just one of many, but oh, how it drains my ability to focus, or should I say to stay focused.

    “It is my prayer that God will help me live a wise life. We only have one life which is made of thousands of minutes stringed together, the way I use each one of them really counts.” Praying with you!!

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  3. Excellent review Becky. This book sounds right up my alley. I am all too aware that the internet, with all its blessings, can sometimes leave me feeling “a mile wide and an inch deep.” May God give us wisdom and grace to do what is right … love you! Have a beautiful Sunday tomorrow!

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  4. Thanks for the review. I have not read it, but have listened to Carr on Mars Hill Audio. It is an important message and warning we ought to heed and perhaps be ruthless in applying in our wired lives.

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  5. Thank you Becky, for this most enlightening review and post. I've been reading more about the downsides of multi-tasking and this adds much to the equation. As I try to focus on establishing biblical priorities, ETERNAL priorities, and doing all for the glory of God, this drives home the importance of concentrating even harder if I want to maintain and live them as well.

    May God bless you, dear friend, for all the wonderful things you share in your blog that remind us to give him our all!

    Much love to you, dear sister,

    Ruth

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