Monday, June 7, 2010

The Shallows

I just read a review of The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr. Carr explores other historical paradigm shifts (the advent of literacy, the invention of the printing press) as well as neuroscience to figure out how the internet is changing our minds. His basic argument is that the internet, while allowing us to take in unprecedented amounts of information, is decreasing our ability to pay attention, think deeply, and remember. The result is a society left intellectually "splashing about in the shallows."

So what does this have to do with my research on new media relationships in the context of the Bloggernacle and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral"? It makes me wonder if the internet is having a similar effect on our relationships or communities that Carr says it is having on our ability to think. While the internet is facilitating the formation of online communities that would not otherwise exist, bringing people of different backgrounds or geographic locations together in ways never before possible, is it decreasing the depth of traditional, face to face relationships? Are traditional communities based on location, culture, etc. more meaningful than these new virtual ones like the Bloggernacle? Are traditional communities more meaningful or valuable than new virtual ones? Are we forfeiting the strength of traditional communities by forming "shallow" virtual relationships? Are we moving toward a future where will we have hundreds or thousands of "virtual friends" instead of having a smaller number of deeper face to face relationships? I'm not trying to be alarmist, and I haven't formed solid answers or opinions on any of these questions, but I think they are worth exploring.


  1. A good set of questions. Some relevant references to this include Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone (which explores the growing collapse of community), David Bednar's CES Fireside talk (in the June 2010 Ensign, too)

  2. I just found a similar article, and this one does begin to explore the effect on relationships:

  3. I think you bring up some pretty important concerns here, Ben. It reminds me of an article I once read by our good friend Henry Jenkins, about new media literacy and its importance:

    You might look specifically at page 37, where Jenkins discusses multitasking and attention span - topics very applicable to "The Shallows."

    I've always thought of "multitasking" as a sort of dirty word - as that when people are multi-tasking, they are doing many things and none of them well. Or, there is the idea that your brain can only ever do one single thing at once, even if it leaps quickly back and forth, and the constant leaping means constant disjunction and inability to immerse and fully comprehend/engage. I think there must still be some truth to these ideas, but Jenkins presents an interesting illustration with his "farmers" and "hunters" model. Both may be needed, and both serve different functions in society. I assume different people are more suited to one than the other as well. I imagine that Michael Jordan or Brett Favre are excellent multi-taskers, (hunters) because they can quickly scan situations and see relationships, observe actions and predict their trajectories from a myriad of inputs. But Favre or Jordan might not do so well writing a philisophical paper on determinism or free will (i don't really know them). Such an activity would require DEEPER focus, more deliberate decisions, over probably long periods of time.