It's Not Your Fault You Are Shallow, Blame the Internet

Categories: Technology

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Nicholas Carr
By Alyssa Jaffer

Information technology expert Nicholas Carr reveals how the rapidly developing technology around us encourages fragmented, scattered thinking. In short, our superficial thinking amounts to superficial relationships.

Carr first experimented with information technology when he worked as a writer at a management consulting firm Oliver Wyman (then called Mercer Management) in the mid '80s. There, he learned about computers and economics. He describes how he fell in love with his first computer, a 1985 Mac Plus, and became and became fascinated with the concept of information technology.

At the time of the dot-com boom, about a decade later, Carr worked as an editor at Harvard Business Review, where he wrote articles about the effect of the Internet on business and its economical impact. His 2003 article, "IT Doesn't Matter" spurred more than a book deal, it shifted Carr's interest. He became more invested in discovering the social and cultural implications of social media and Internet -- particularly how technology is changing our perceptions of the world and the way we think.

And what he found will surprise you.

Despite the benefits of fast-and-easy knowledge sharing, based on neuro-scientific and historical research, technology is adapting our brains to more fragmented and distracted thinking. This is the thesis of his 2010 book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain. The Internet encourages us to multi-task and divide our attention, but at a high cost.

"What we're losing is the ability to engage in more attentive thought, to be contemplative and introspective, tasks that require us to screen out the information we get from the net and communicate with other people ... it's making us shallower thinkers, more superficial thinkers," Carr said.

The book sprung from Carr's contentious article in The Atlantic, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," which came from his own observation that Carr himself did not have the attention span he used to. Knowledge is about building connections and associations, but with such a wealth of information available nowadays, we become distracted, explained Carr. Life on the Internet causes us to "crave distraction, crave interruption, and makes it harder and harder for us to be attentive," he said. There is a wider social consequence as well, that we are becoming more socially superficial and less interested in deeper relationships.

So how do we save ourselves from becoming so empty?

Carr advises us to not only focus on the benefits of digital communication, but to be equally skeptical. Although the rate of information exchange is increasing, a decrease in attentiveness will lead to a decrease in intelligence, he said. And a distracted dummy does not make for good company.

Get inside Carr's head at the Cal Academy event, The Social Network Effect, a conversation with Thomas Goetz of Wired Magazine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 14th, Nourse Theater, tickets are $20 for members. 415.392.4400.

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