the shallows: chapter 5

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“‘A new medium is never an addition to an old one,’ wrote McLuhan in Understanding Media, ‘nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.'” (Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains)

Carr’s chapter 5 is titled “A Medium of the Most General Nature”, and I thought this quote from McLuhan offered an insightful description of how new technology affects current media.The internet is not only altering current intellectual technologies, but it is “subsuming” them. Large quantities of people are going online for virtually all forms of entertainment, and the various media are restructuring their content and delivery to be compatible with the shift.

Another focus of this chapter is the segmented nature of the online experience that “fragments content and disrupts concentration”. Carr quotes blogger and science fiction writer Cory Doctorow, who says digital media is an “ecosystem of interruption technologies”. This analysis may seem a little harsh, but I don’t think it’s negatively biased in any way; it’s just an honest assessment of the media. In another section on e-readers, Carr talks about the internet’s ability to embed links to take you to search engines and gather more information on the word or words on which you clicked. While this additional information can sometimes add important context, it can also lead you on a long tangent of clicks (more on that later; I have a specific example from the next chapter I will reference and link here).

Another example of the disruptive nature of digital technologies is presented in the chapter – people attending a play were Twittering about it as it was in progress. While viewers have gained the ability to share their experience immediately, are they missing out on actually experience the event in-person? By “sharing” our experiences online while they are taking place in front of our eyes, are we too focused on telling people about what we are doing instead of actually experiencing it? This is a question I plan on continually addressing; I talked a little bit about this in my post about The Social Network, and my friend Dave provided some insightful and relevant information in a comment on the post.

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