The Personal Side of "The Shallows"


While Carr’s book, as I outlined in my previous post seems to follow a neutral, logical character, the book is also intensely personal. Carr himself starts the narrative not as a dispassionate researcher asking whether the neuro-anatomical structures of the brain are changing due to prolonged Net exposure. Carr begins, in Chapter 1, with a gut-feeling: “Why can’t I pay attention like I used to?”

For me this was very telling because I’ve been afraid to admit to myself that my mind has been changing over these last few years and that I’m not entirely sure it has been for the better. Prior to college my mind, it seems to me, was more or less in the same state. It grew more mature, to be sure, as a function of time, but the process by which I thought seemed of a consistent form. Even my first two years in the work force didn’t seem to change my mind’s machinery much, but in the 2004-2007 range some changes took root. My mind started conforming to the mens nova. Not only did I obtain it, but I excelled at having it.

Two specific problems with this mind emerged that I see now. When I was living in SF, single, I realize I must have engaged many of my dates with this mind. When a lady might have been speaking to me, I could see where the thought was going and, I suspect, I betrayed that I knew the direction the discussion was going and tuned out until the end of the statement.

You see, I had taken to being content-oriented versus communications-oriented. Think about it, isn’t this the mode of your mind after a day at a business or role dominated by the mens nova?

To her great credit, my lovely girlfriend Lauren, has spent many, many hours trying to help me de-pattern this mind viz. interpersonal communication. Even as she worked to de-program these patterns I became and attained several times in 06-07 a modality of this mens nova called Twitch Mode that I wrote about in this very blog years ago.

Around the time I reached my peak efficacy at being a Twitchy machine, I started implementing changes in my work behavior. I was lucky I was able to do this. I started shutting down IM, I started queueing mail. However, even as I did that new mens nova- friendly sites entered my life: Facebook and Twitter gave swift informational reward for repeated visits. I got an iPhone, a beautiful device to make sure that your favorite distractor sites are never further than a swipe away.

Like most modern people I am more twitchy than I ought be, but I am less twitchy than your average 14 year-old. How I hope to retain a reserve of peace will be a topic for a future post.

However, I knew, and Lauren insisted that there was a calmer, more human, more intimate place whither to return. What if you never knew a world where the mens nova was, nova? This is precisely the situation of the youth of today. What some of us knew from the experience of “getting lost in a book,” or that the swamis knew as “relaxed contemplation,” or that yoga teachers know when executing uttitha trikonasana perfectly they will have never experienced and will not know to miss it!

For me, a day where I left in Twitch Mode with my heart pounding could be mollified with alcohol, a long weekend, or a trip kayaking. Like a weekend pill popper or a college freshman at the end of a bender I could sleep it off and get back to normal. Yet for for many of us it is getting harder and harder to get back to normal; for some of us normal has been razed and its fields salted by the armies of the new mind.