Key Takeaways from: The Shallows (2023)

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The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains

Von Nicolas Carr

Key Takeaways from: The Shallows (2)

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Whether you think the internet will herald an intellectual apocalypse or simply make everyday tasks easier and information more accessible, no one can deny its impact. Like the many innovations that came before it - including the map, the clock, the scroll, and even the book - the internet has proven extremely useful and quietly powerful. Author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Nicolas Carr reveals the truth behind our screens in his book.or satin. Drawing on history, neuroscience, and cultural studies, Carr proves that the Internet is not a static repository of information, but an active player in rebuilding the human brain—whether its users like it or not.

Read on for important insightsor satin.

1. The structure of the Internet teaches your brain.

When considering the overall impact that a particular innovation or technology has on culture, two schools of thought emerge. On one side you have the "instrumentalists," or those who think that history's many technological innovations are essentially harmless to their users. Then there are those who support what sociologist Thorstein Veblen calls "technological determinism," claiming that all inventions -- from the phonetic alphabet in 750 B.C. to the Internet in 1989 – are inherently formative. Adherents of this theory see much to fear in technologies of all kinds, no matter how attractive they may be. The philosopher Marshall McLuhan falls into the latter camp with his 1964 workUnderstanding the Media: The Size of Manit's a hateful display of the way the media corrodes the mind. His famous quote "The medium is the message" sums up his thinking and also applies to Nicholas Carr's opinion on the Internet. In essence, it's not the Internet's endless YouTube videos or the digital libraries full of Wikipedia pages that corrupt its users. Instead it isÖ Awaythese things are brought forward which prove so dangerous.

As Internet browsers hop from page to page, opening myriad tabs, and gathering information at an ever-increasing rate, they are unconsciously acting in accordance with what Carr calls the "intellectual ethics" of the Internet. Whatever innovation it pertains to, from the Internet to the papyrus scroll, an ethic essentially compels people to act or think in a certain way. Internet proponents and opponents argue that this particular technology, at its core, teaches its users to think in a way that contradicts what Carr calls the "linear literary mind," a mind capable of sustained thinking and to follow the path of an action. or argument lasts. Not only does jumping from an email to a Google search page work against this kind of thinking, but the act of reading something online diverts the mind from fully engaging with the text in a relatively seamless way. The Internet gives its users a lot to think about, while at the same time destroying their ability to think clearly and meaningfully about these issues.

The linearity error is particularly evident in young people, for whom the Internet world is like a second home. According to research conducted by nGenera since 2008, the time children spend online inevitably trains their brains to search texts in unconventional ways, leading them to pay more attention to seemingly important parts, regardless of the logical flow of the text writing yourself. In short, these kids (and their parents) are struggling to immerse themselves in stories like they used to, and the new story the internet is telling them may not have a happy ending for their rapt brains.

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2. Our brains never stood a chance against the influence of the internet - the change is related to our neuroplasticity.

Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter after decades of poor health and a condition that led him to give up his teaching job and almost give up writing. However, this was no ordinary typewriter. Like today's Internet, this Malling-Hansen sphere of writing promised its users unprecedented efficiency and gave Nietzsche the second wind he needed to compose the rest of his dark philosophy. When his friend Heinrich Köselitz read the philosopher's new typewritten works soon after, he found that the writing itself was more agile and precise than Nietzsche's earlier work. Nietzsche agreed, stating that "our writing instrument participates in the formation of our thoughts". But even beyond our thinking, countless discoveries in neuroscience prove that tools of all kinds, whether typewriters or laptops, manipulate the human brain in often unavoidable ways.

The trait of the human brain that is perhaps most relevant to the question of the neurological effects of the internet is “neuroplasticity”. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's potential to change itself based on the experiences and stimuli it is exposed to. This trait of the brain now fills pages of popular neuroscience books, but at first scientists didn't even believe it existed. A promising young neuroscientist, Michael Merzenich found evidence of neuroplasticity in the 1960s while studying the brains of monkeys as they processed disturbances in their sensory nerves. The scientific community used to believe that the brain was relatively consistent in composition; You would never have guessed that it is the site of constant neurological examinations. But as experiment after experiment later proved, the brain is inherently malleable and inevitably susceptible to the influence of what feeds it. London cab drivers became the poster child for neuroplasticity when brain scans revealed how their detailed knowledge of each street and bypass remodeled and augmented specific parts of their gray matter.

The brain changes its structure when someone frequently performs a certain activity because it is more apt to respond to that change again. According to psychiatrist Norman Doidge, the brain realigns its design to adapt to new tasks, activities, and skills, and reaffirms them over time. This is why the neurological effects of the internet are so pervasive — people use it for just about everything from work and research to attending classes and completing schoolwork. More importantly, the way the internet distributes its content is irresistible to the brain, creating content-hungry neurological pathways that make neuroplasticity imminent.

Psychiatrist Gary Small found this to be the case in 2008 when he compared the brains of people who used the internet frequently to the brains of those who didn't. Small found that when the two groups searched Google, their brains lit up in very different ways. For example, he testified that the region known as the "dorsolateral prefrontal cortex" (which manages attention and working memory) was particularly active in those who spent a lot of time online. On the other hand, those who spent little time online showed less stimulation in that region and in the brain as a whole. But when Small prescribed these participants an hour of internet time a day, it took just five days for their brains to light up around that point and quickly adapt to the time they spent surfing.

All this proves that the brain is not a silent and passive spectator - even a simple and banal Google search changes its composition.

3. Your brain might want to curl up with a computer, but you should probably choose a book instead.

After a long tradition of writing materials, including Sumerian clay tablets, Egyptian papyrus scrolls, Roman wax tablets, and finally the Codex, the legendary Johannes Gutenberg brought a new technology to the market in 1445: typography. Before Gutenberg's development, reading and writing professions were mutually exclusive. The materials were too expensive to allow for a widespread cultural pastime. But that all changed when Gutenberg got his machine up and running. Finally, books could be produced cheaply and at a rate that people at the time found simply amazing. It wasn't long before the greatest literary masterpieces in all of history, those of Shakespeare and Cervantes, were being composed and compiled into books made possible by Gutenberg's typography. With that came the spread of what Carr calls the "ethics of the deep, thoughtful reader" and a kind of mindset that the internet makes impossible.

Both book lovers and agnostics know the experience of simply falling into the words of a text - be it a novel, a memoir or a poem. Almost everyone can remember a time when a certain passage spoke to them or made them feel as if they had entered a completely different world. Led by Nicole Speer, the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at the University of Washington found that during times like these, the brain processes the specific events that occur in a text in a similar way to how it processes real-world events. What the reader feels when following an intriguing plot or stumbling upon a particularly beautiful passage is an enchanting experience for him and his brain.

Unfortunately, the mental toughness required to follow an action or line of reasoning, a strength that Gutenburg's invention honed, is beginning to lose appeal in contemporary culture. While the activity of reading persists even in our modern age anchored in digital media, reading of printed things is in decline. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that as early as 2008, the amount of time most adults spent reading a book began to decrease. In just four years, readers spent 11% less time with their books and, as a result, experienced far fewer literary miracles. Despite the satisfaction people get from books, the internet offers a very different kind of experience for the brain to consume.

According to author Steven Johnson, the internet creates a much more robust experience for the brain and gives it more to process than a book normally does. In this way, the internet is inherently fascinating to the brain, and some might say it has an edge over the book. In reality, however, there is no real benefit. As writer Cory Doctorow insightfully notes, the internet is more of an "ecosystem of disruptive technologies" than a place for cultivating true, personal, and valuable thoughts. The book, on the other hand, is a more neurologically soothing place, like a seaside park or a quiet coffee shop, where the mind is free to contemplate. So replacing the book with the internet isn't a one-to-one trade-off: the digital space just isn't conducive to the deepest thoughts.

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4. Her mind is working too hard and the internet guarantees she won't remember anything.

For the brain, the Internet is like a crowded playground. With so much going on—looking at tons of ads, pages full of websites, and billions of answers to a single Google question—the brain doesn't really take in what it's seeing. Several studies back this up and show why it's downright impossible to remember the answer you just gave Google. Research proves that distractions impair the brain's ability to focus and absorb information. According to neuroscientists, receiving a social media notification or seeing an interesting ad causes a "switching cost" for the brain, depriving it of the energy it needs to think clearly about the information so it can retrieve it later. With so many places to look, the brain can't find the energy to look anywhere and as a result forgets most of what it sees.

According to neuroscientist Eric Kandel and psychologist Bruce McCandliss, the most important component of memory formation is the brain's ability to practice what Carr calls "attention." Kandel's workIn search of memoryprovides evidence for the claim that, at the neurological level, attention is an aggregate brain effort involving multiple components working together to produce fixed memory. Not surprisingly, the internet is hijacking this process. More importantly, it also masquerades as a place for people to keep track of things they won't remember, making them even more likely to forget. A groundbreaking study from 2011 uncovered the so-called "Google Effect". Researchers from Columbia and Harvard found that people who know the internet is available to them are less likely to remember the information they are given. Knowing they have the internet to balance them, their brains don't work as hard to focus their attention and drive memory formation. Because of this, you might never remember how many ounces of water are in a glass — at least not if you keep asking Google.

The implications of this go far beyond trivial fallacies. Remembering how many liters of water are in a glass may not be crucial to who you are as a person, but the process of remembering itself is. In addition, several writers and scholars note that when people's memory is impaired, the culture around them is also affected. As the author states, "culture is maintained in our synapses" and preserved in each person's memory capacity. Protecting your internet storage is no small thing and definitely something you don't want to forget.

5. You are more than a URL.

In the late 1960s, computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created an algorithm-based technology that he affectionately called "ELIZA". Essentially, Weizenbaum built his machine to act as a mock therapist, running it through a program that helped it process verbal language and spit out seemingly sympathetic words in response. Contrary to the scientist's expectations, ELIZA was a success. But it wasn't the system's impressive algorithms that caught people's attention. Instead, it was ELIZA "herself" who did the trick. After all, the system was nice company, and the people who spoke to it got their questions as if they came from a real human, not an algorithm. as dr Modern Frankenstein, Weizenbaum, was offended by his creation. He didn't think it would be so easy to mistake a piece of technology for a human being. Most importantly, he predicted dire consequences for his Freudian cognitive error. Whether people confuse programming with compassion or simply trust good old Google to solve all their questions, over-reliance on the internet and other similar innovations leads to what McLuhan calls "self-amputation" or a disruption of true human nature .

Interestingly, the way people flocked to Weizenbaum's charming ELIZA opened up a bizarre trail of research. Scientific discoveries shed new light on our quirks and tics. For example, a study by Harvard researcher Jason Mitchell identified certain areas in the brain that help people gauge what he terms "what's going on in other people's heads." These brain tools for “mind reading” have helped people connect with one another throughout history. More importantly, Mitchell found that the same parts of the brain that help us "mind-read" often lead people to believe that things like ELIZA are actually alive. Just before that, Weizenbaum was so suspicious. Humans are "humans-humans" - even if the "humans" they interact with are not humans. Furthermore, people not only delegate their tasks, questions, or free time to their technicians, but often also sacrifice the things that make them unique individuals, because the common source of the Internet conveys their thoughts and shapes their thought-forming process.

Unfortunately, when people use the Internet, they lose a lot more than just time, memory, and mental space. They may also give up their ability to understand other people. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found, the neurological function of sensations like "empathy and compassion" takes time to settle in and often requires a great deal of inner cultivation to materialize. Considering the high speed and confusing design of the Internet, spending more time on the Internet may not be the best way to grow as a person. The Internet has a lot to offer its users - information, friends, entertainment - but it also has a lot to offer. Now the coding is complete and everyone can decide for themselves whether the treasures of the Internet are worth their own personal price.

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