the shallows: chapter 3

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Carr’s chapter titled “Tools of the Mind” mainly discusses the evolution of certain technologies and the role of these advancements in relation to the shaping of civilization. I went a little crazy with my highlighter in this chapter, so please bear with me as I attempt to form a cohesive summary of my observations.

First of all, when Carr details the technological innovations that have changed society, I took special note of his discussion on clocks and timekeeping. In a previous post, I included a quote from Neil Postman on how our perception of time has drastically changed with the advent of the clock. Carr quotes David Landes who describes clocks as “‘an ever-visible, ever-audible companion and monitor.’ By continually reminding its owner of ‘time used, time spent, time wasted, time lost,’ it became both ‘prod and key to personal achievement and productivity.'” Carr goes on to say that the “mechanical clock changed the way we saw ourselves… It changed the way we thought.”

The concept of keeping time is fascinating to me, because until recently I never thought to question it. Can you imagine what it was like to live before time dictated our schedules? There are certainly benefits to having clocks, especially standardization throughout the world, but imagine a day or even a week without knowing the time.

I recently purchased a used car and one of its few dysfunctional components is the clock – it doesn’t work. I had never realized how many times I glance at the clock until the first week I had my new car. But after a few days, I concluded it’s a liberating feeling. I was on my way somewhere and running late. I had the strongest urge to check the time every 30 seconds. I realized that compulsively checking the time would never changed anything about my circumstances; in fact, it makes me even more stressed about being late.

“Every technology is an expression of human will. Through our tools, we seek to expand our power and control over our circumstances – over nature, over time and distance, over one another… Every intellectual technology, to put it another way, embodies an intellectual ethic, a set of assumptions about how the human mind should work” (Carr). I had never analyzed why we seek advancements in technology, but obviously it is because we want to refine our abilities and capabilities by being faster, better, smarter and stronger. But Carr points out that inventors and users generally don’t see “the broader implications” of these creations because they are too “concerned with the practical benefits they gain from employing the tool.”

Obviously Carr is setting up his argument for how the internet fits this description, and I think he does a good job of presenting evidence and historical information in this chapter.

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