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The Shallows

March 20, 2013

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our BrainsIt is an important book for our generation. Carr is continuing the tradition of media prophet such as Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman. It can be seen also that he is continuing the tradition of technology critics such as Lewis Mumford, and believe me or not Joseph Weizenbaum, one of the computer wizard in its early days, by creating one of the first AI: ELIZA, the chatterbots (google it by yourself). Later he became one of AI critics.

In this book, in which he goes to full length, he tries to argue that Internet is making us dumber. And in the long term, instead of serving the mankind, Internet will indeed do us harm, because we rely on it too much. By “outsourcing” our thinking ability to the Internet, we will eventually loose the ability that makes us most human: THINKING!

In the following I will emphasize some of his arguments:
1. All technology will change our brain and body structure, for better or worse. For example: the farming technology, will decrease our reliance of physical strength, while increasing the output of our work. By depending on technology, we can no longer rely on our muscle power. In other words, we are numbing our muscle. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Because we still can supplement the muscle power ability by lots of exercise (this line is my own argument).

2. But what about computer and Internet especially. Computer or in wider sense Information Technology (IT). By “outsourcing” our thinking ability, just like what happened in muscle analogy, we will numb our brain. So what? If computer can do the works better for us, why not? Why? Because computer can not replicate human way of thinking. Computer thinks in rules, specific predefined rule. While we, human, think by breaking the rule sometimes. There are no such thing as perfect copy when we are talking about human way of thinking. In computer, you can copy a file millions of times, and it is still the same file as the original.

3. So, is it a bad thing? The realm of sci-fi is a good way in exercising this. Once upon a time, one of sci-fi prophet, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey. In this novel, there was HAL, the supercomputer inside a spaceship, programmed for the ultimate success mission of the ship, AT ALL COST! And once the AI “thought” that its human counterparts were jeopardizing the mission, you can guess what happened next.

4. So, is computer all bad? No. But unfortunately it reshapes the way we are, for better or worse. Hopefully we can keep the better part, and get rid of the worse part. But I doubt it, the trend has already show that we are going to the worse part. And this is Carr’s argument: we have lost our deep and systematic thinking, the legacy of the typographic culture, and replaced by staccato and intermittent thinking, the one that is heralded by Internet. Look at Twitter! Who wants to read long arguments on Twitter! Do you want to have a discourse on Facebook? I wish you good luck! In the long term, we might lost the one thing that makes us human: THINKING.

One thing that kept me from giving him a 5 star, he is not coining any new thoughts. He is just compiling from many past thinkers. I am not saying that what he is doing is nothing, he still spend lots of time to present these thing in front of us in a coherent way. Without him, we might not aware of all of these stuffs. 4 Star!

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