I will have more to say about all this at some later point, but for now let me refer you all to Russell Arben Fox’s excellent response to Nick Carr’s forthcoming book The Shallows:

The book’s arguments are broad, but its overarching thesis is a simple two-pronged one. First, that the internet has an “intellectual ethic,” just as every “intellectual technology” does, “a set of assumptions about how the human mind works or should work” (p. 43). The assumptions at work in and through the internet, as it happens, are ones which revolve around snap judgments, thin generality, shifting attention spans, multitasking, flexibility, and most of all, distractions: the ethic of “the juggler” in other words (p. 112). Second, that in becoming jugglers of information we are actually making it — neurologically, psychologically, structurally — harder and harder for our own brains to do anything otherwise. The “deep reading” made possible by the ethic of the book–the way we could learn to enter into, identify with, creatively work through and embrace or reject a written argument (pp. 71-72) — has a neurological reality to it, and when our brains mold themselves to a different environment of reading, basic cognition, long-term memory, and learning are all dramatically affected, and not in a positive way. On the contrary, we become habituated to viewing all information — literature, science, journalism, scholarship, whatever — as something to be “strip-mined [for] relevant content” (p. 164), and rather than thereby supposedly refining our ability to recognize (in classic marketplace of ideas fashion) good information from bad, in fact our capacity to make learned judgments is physically undermined.

Lots here to think about the respond to!


  1. How does it affect a person's ability to carry on an extended conversation on one subject? To develop a persuasive, cohesive argument in defense of a position? Does it eventually affect the kinds/depth of personal relationships people are able to have?

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