The subtitle of this book is “what the internet is doing to our brains,” but Carr spends quite a lot of pages at the beginning telling us about our brains in general and how other developments (such as inventing writing) affected our brains. He thinks that the internet and all it’s distractions affects our ability to think deeply. He thinks we cannot focus for long enough to read a book any more. Which made me wonder why he had written one, if he thinks we the public will not be able to sit still still without checking our emails for long enough to read it.
Our brains are like a muscle, and are constantly adapting to however we use them. If we use the internet a lot, then that will change the way the synapses in our brains fire. If we unplug from the internet and go and live on a mountain for a while then our brains will change again.
It is true that the internet has changed everything. Search engines have changed how we research, and if we read online, hyperlinks have changed the way we read a document. Newspapers (that are mostly online now, rather than printed) have to be more headline-focussed. We no longer have to use our brains to remember things quite so much, we have Google for that. I cannot decide if this is all entirely bad. In the 70s, when calculators were introduced in schools, people worried that they would harm a person’s ability to do mental arithmetic. They probably do, but they free up your brain to do more complex maths instead.
Personally, I do not believe that we have to choose between the internet and books, as Carr seems to think. I can read a book for in-depth knowledge on a subject I think is interesting. I would pick up a book to learn all the things about a subject that the writer thinks is relevant. Then, if there is something in there I want to learn more about, I can Google it. Where is the harm in that?
His major worry seems to be the idea that sci-fi film 2001 will come true. He is concerned that humans will entrust computers to “tasks that demand wisdom.” This seems a big jump from using the internet to look things up much more quickly than popping down to the library and going through a dozen encyclopedias.