Putting The Shallows into dialogue with Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, the latter book seems like the one with an actual idea. However smartly dressed, Carr’s concern about the corrosiveness of media is really a reflex, one that’s been twitching ever since Socrates fretted over the dangers of the alphabet. Shirky’s idea — that modern life produces a surplus of time, which people have variously spent on gin, television, and now the Internet — is something to sink one’s teeth into.
This is pretty typical of the technophilic reviews I’ve seen so far of Carr’s book: let’s just pretend that Carr didn’t cite any research to support his points, or that the research doesn’t exist. Let’s just assert that Carr made assertions. In short: Carr makes claims I would prefer to be false, so I’ll call his position an archaic “reflex.” That way I won’t have to think about it.(Steven Johnson, by contrast — see my comments a few posts back —, acknowledges that the research on multitasking is there, that it’s valid, and that Carr has cited it fairly. He just doesn’t think that losing 20% of our attentiveness is all that big a deal.)It would be a wonderful thing if someone were to put Carr’s book and Shirky’s into dialogue with each other — I might try it myself, if I can find time to finish Cognitive Surplus — but saying, in effect, “this book sucks” and “this other book is awesome” doesn’t constitute dialogue.