2012 Carolina Summer Reading Program: About the Book

In 2008, best-selling author and journalist Nicholas Carr wrote a cover story for the Atlantic that posed a question: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In the piece, Carr argued that the ever-increasing amount of time we spend online might be eroding our capacity to read carefully and think critically. The article set off a raging debate and became the basis for THE SHALLOWS: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a probing exploration of how the omnipresent Internet changes not just our external but our internal lives—rewiring our synapses and upending our cultural priorities.

As he engages with a host of thinkers and writers, including Nietzche, Plato, Socrates, Hawthorne, Turing, Freud, and William James, among others, Carr lays out a groundbreaking argument about the way that intellectual technologies—the phonetic alphabet, maps, the clock—have shaped the way we live. He examines with particular depth the evolution of the form of the written book, from the ancient stone tablet to the modern book. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press popularized the medium and the book has since reigned as the dominant intellectual technology of our age. It has symbolized the examined life, intellectualism, and deep engagement with the world. Until now.

For much of the twentieth century, many have feared that computers would become ever more like humans. Perhaps what we should be more concerned about, Carr suggests, is our own minds. Reoriented to the constant flicker and scroll of online information, they are becoming ever more like machines. As we continue to interact with the Internet, through browsers and iPhones and iPads, we are slowly remaking ourselves in the Net’s image, and we are pushing to the margins the quiet, contemplative existence that the book embodies. We have embraced the Net without knowing the Net, and what that means for our culture, as THE SHALLOWS masterfully asserts, remains fraught.

W.W. Norton Publishing

Alice Rha arha@wwnorton.com