“We shouldn’t allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we’ve numbed an essential part of our self.” – Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The final chapter of The Shallows functions as a summary, but also as a description of how we shape technologies and how they shape us. We create tools as extensions of ourselves, but “every tool imposes limitations even as it opens possibilities. The more we use it, the more we mold ourselves to its form and function… McLuhan wrote that our tools end up ‘numbing’ whatever part of our body they ‘amplify'” (Carr). For example, when the power loom was invented, we could make more cloth than ever before, but weavers sacrificed their “manual dexterity” that came from working the fabric. The point of this line of thought is the dependency that forms between us and our technologies. Carr highlights an interesting study from Dutch clinical psychologist Christof van Nimwegen in which two groups of participants tried to complete a logic puzzle on computers. One group had the aid of software designed to be “as helpful as possible”. The short story is that this group became dependent on the software’s assistance; they “aimlessly clicked around” to solve the puzzle, while the group using bare bones software completed the puzzle “more quickly and with fewer wrong moves” (Carr). Even more impressive is the fact that eight months later, the groups completed the same puzzle as well as a variation, and the group without helpful software completed the puzzle twice as fast. Basically, as we “externalize problem solving… we reduce our brain’s ability to build stable knowledge structures… that can later be applied to knew situations” (Carr).
I think the quote at the beginning of this post is a good summary of Carr’s overarching theme and additionally what I think about the topic. The bottom line is that while the internet has astounding capabilities, it unquestioningly affects our minds’ functions. The point is that we shouldn’t immerse ourselves in such technology blindly, but move forward asking questions about how these advancements are changing us.
I’m going to take a moment to celebrate finally finishing this book! While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Carr’s thought-provoking text, it was a bit of a challenging read, especially when trying to blog semi-coherent thoughts recounting the information. Thanks for reading my ramblings. Now on to a new book!