Home Book Reviews The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

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The ShallowsApproximately two years ago, I reviewed Nicholas Carr’s book, The Big Switch.  At the time, I applauded Carr’s creativity for examining the declining costs in computers, the increasing power of processing through “the cloud” and enormous server farms and his prediction that lower computing cost would enable and empower individuals, not large corporations, to create and control new businesses.  Carr wrote that the situation was not unlike the era when the cost of electricity decreased with the development of public utilities.

When I read that Carr had written a new book, The Shallows, I ordered a pre-publication copy.  The subtitle, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, did not surprise or alarm me since another one of Carr’s books, Does IT Matter, established his provocative thinking about technology and its potential uses.

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr weaves the recent findings from neurological studies of the brain demonstrating the impact of Internet usage around an historical narrative of the evolution of learning.  Plato, Socrates, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Marshall McLuhan are some of the thinkers whose writings Carr utilizes to demonstrate a linkage between the introduction of new technologies and a change in the way we learn.

Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press led to the widespread dissemination of books, newspapers, and periodicals.  The act of reading a book stimulated the mind’s creativity and thought, allowing us to focus our attention on ideas and concepts.  The digitization of knowledge and dissemination through the Internet and indexing of that knowledge by Google changes that learning dynamic.  Instead of focused thinking, our minds are being retrained to think rapidly, skimming content for relevance.  Carr warns that we are losing our ability to concentrate.  He bolsters this thought with a small chapter that describes how he found the time to write The Shallows.  Because he is a writer, he disconnected from much of the technology that he had grown accustomed to over the years.

Carr writes that major changes in thinking shift over generations as technology becomes more embedded in work, education, and leisure.  Carr has thrown a different spin to those books and articles about our children becoming Digital Natives and what the benefits may be to our society.  Like Nicholas Carr, I have always been an early adopter of technology.  My first personal computer was an Apple IIB in the late 1970’s and I have gone through many upgrades, models, and brands since then as well as many versions of cell phones, smart phones, GPS devices, etc.  However, I am not a Digital Native.  I embraced reading and writing at an early age and am able to shut out the distractions of technology when I need or want to concentrate.  After reading Carr’s illuminating book, I wonder if he’s right about the potential effect of technology to reduce our abilities to think creatively, thoughtfully, and grasp new concepts.  I encourage everyone to read it.

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

Comment(2)

  1. Is there anything you’d change about how higher education is delivered online, based on Carr’s book? At the least, maybe tactics for reducing online distraction and enhancing focus could be covered in some sort of seminar course, if it isn’t already.

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