Friday, January 25, 2019

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

When my husband's jokes are particularly annoying, I know the problem is not Dan. It's me. I'm just too stressed or too tired to enjoy his quirky sense of humor. I've been noticing the same thing about books lately. Hardly anything I read in 2018 brought joy to my heart. I'm pretty sure it wasn't the books. It was me and my diminishing attention span. I long for the days when I could get lost in a good book.

So in 2019 I'm hoping to cut way back on screen/scrolling time and read more non-digital books. It is appropriate that the first physical book I read this year was The Shallow: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.

If I could sum up the book in a few sentences, it would be, "The distractions of the internet make deep reading next to impossible. Without deep reading there is no deep thinking." What Carr didn't say, but what kept coming to my mind, was "If no one is thinking deeply, what will happen to beautifully crafted sentences? What is the future, not just of reading, but of writing?" Kudos to me for not skipping the overly technical chapters (even when I wanted to.) There is a legitimate time and place for skimming, but since I was attempting to retrain my brain to pay attention, it was probably good that I started with a hard book. After struggling through the first 40 pages, I finally hit my stride.

Of the many quotes I marked,  most are too obvious to be enlightening so I'll post just a few.

The computer is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master. (p. 4)

The Net's interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment. (p. 117)

What determines what we remember and what we forget? The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and forming connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. (p. 193)

Carr maintains that most modern technologies are dividing our attention thereby causing a loss of concentration. I don't think anyone can argue with that. The issue is what are we going to do about it?  I, for one, plan to keep my brain in good working order by reading more carefully, spending less time on electronic devices, and memorizing chunks of poetry and scripture.

Any thoughts?



Ruth said...

This is so terribly true. What a monster we have created for our culture and generations to come. It's frightening. But you recognize it, and you are on top of it. It would be interesting to do a post in December to see how you fared: did you meet your expectations? Did you have a change of attitude? It should make a great difference!

Sunshine said...

The instantanousness so prevalent around us, removes us from the quiet contemplation that used to be part and parcel of everyday living. Even reading, which helps us ponder, is now supposed to be quick, getting the gist of it, while we have been brainwashed into receiving 1 second sound bites/bytes and 1/2 second visual cues. It is no wonder we are unable to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. Reading takes me away from speed, but I do find my mind wandering as I read. I have turned back a page or two and run across sentences that are unfamiliar, passages my eyes traveled over, but I did not read.
I'm looking forward to reading The Shallows - I've had a copy in my bookcase for a year!

booklearner said...

Does this book offer any practical suggestions to counterbalance the negative effects of technology?
I would love to get off of tech more. I find myself getting much antsier and less patient than I used to be. But more and more of life gets put on the web that it's hard to not live on it even when you don't want to! I could seriously use some practical helps. Thanks!

hopeinbrazil said...

Booklearner, there are MANY books being written about how to take back our brains. Two that are on my TBR list are "Hamlet's Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, and Distracted: Reclaiming our Focus in a World of Lost Attention by Maggie Jackson. But I can't recommend something I've already read. Alan Jacobs has one too: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Hope that helps!