We’ve finished the book “The Shallows” and I wanted to reflect once more on what I’m walking away from it thinking about.
First of all, I’ve solidified a common theme amidst the books I’ve read in this Interactive Media program. When it comes to new technologies and how they shape society, people theorize endlessly about very real, sometimes wonderful, and sometimes terrifying aspects of new technology, but at some point they all reach the same general conclusion.
Different is different, they say. (Actually I think Clay Shirky says exactly that.)
This media is so uncertain and unpredictable and people have been wrong so many times before, what we’ve learned seems to be simply not to make sweeping claims. Each author might have a unique concern they can’t shake, but in the end, they stay away from good and bad and stick with different.
This isn’t to say they aren’t actually observing anything or that their arguments are circular. But it is that they aren’t able to make certain, assured, proven statements. And perhaps that the Internet is so vast and uncertain and has proven capable of abrupt directional change.
Carr does an eloquent and thoughtful job of making that point. He’s convinced me before that the Internet is changing the way I process cognitively and after being enlightened as to the history of writing and reading and brain development, I can value deep thinking more. I’m comforted to know that Carr was still capable of unplugging and writing a fully-formed, detailed and well-argued book driving home the idea that technology is making us think differently. Which is different. I’m actually a little jealous that he did have that period of being unplugged and I feel more inspired to make the effort to take the time off from technology.
Entirely novel to me were his concerns about losing (or even just focusing less on) the ability to think empathetically along with our deep processing and focused thought. As Postman said, technology is a trade off—and foregoing higher emotion for more information is one trade I don’t want humans to make.
So on Carr’s way to saying that different is different, he’s shown me a handful of important new avenues to keep in mind while dealing with technological influences on my life. He’s given me a few more tools with which to think critically about it and hopefully I can now better discern what the best choices are for my sanity and best cognitive thinking. The more specific thesis of his book was probably this:
“McLuhan’s point was that honest appraisal of any new technology, or of progress in general, requires a sensitivity to what’s lost as well as what’s gained.”