Notes from "The Shallows"


De scriptibus meis:

Content seduces us (good, ill, pornographic) while the delivery mechanism re-patterns our thinking process. That is we can’t think about idea acquisition, as moderns, without “book.” We can’t think of “a day” without a notion of a measured, external reality that is divided into 246060 measured by the rattle of a cesium atom


McLuhan: “The content of a medium is ’the juice piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind’(Carr, 4).”

Consider: Maxim that “content is king” heard at SXSW and other conferences. We celebrate the content which has been “the same for every new informational medium going back at least to the books that came off Gutenberg’s press. Enthuniasts, with good reason, praise the torrent of new content…a ‘democratization’ of culture…[s]keptics, with equally good reason, condemn the crassness of the content…a ‘dumbing down’ of culture” (Carr,2)."

“The technology of the medium, however astonishing it may be, disappears behind whatever flows through it..”

This is as “The Matrix:” a world pulled over our eyes.

Confer: “Snow Crash:” by patterning our mind by exposure to certain content we immunize, or throw the gates open to the raiding Greeks, the defenses and structures of our mind. Seduced by Sinon’s story, we miss the function of the content (i.e. that he is a reuse designed to allow a mental re-patterning).

Thought: What if, by all this distractibility-inducing content, the famed “man verusus machine” war has already been fought and lost by my side: capitalism (Zynga/Pincus, FB/Zuckerberg, Twitter/…) and the espoused love of content have allowed the virus in, and now it can’t get back out.

Chapter 1

“the Net seems to be … chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation(Carr, 6).”

“‘I have lost the ability to read a longish article on the web or in print’(Carr, 7).”

Philosophy degree holder Joe O’Shea, Rhodes Scholar: “I don’t read books…I go to Google and I can absorb relevant information quickly (Carr, 8).” Steven: This is absurd! College, esp. a philo. degree is not about getting the points ticked off in progression, it’s about learning to follow an intellectual thread. To know that Berkeley said X is worthless, to know that Berkley’s X was a reaction to Malabranche or Descartes and why is the point. What a waste of time, O’Shea. I suspect he’ll come to rue that being in print.

“I can’t get my [Literature!] students to read whole books anymore (Carr, 9)”

Chapter 2

Nietzsche acquired a Malling-Hansen typing ball, an early typewriter: “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts’ (Carr, 19).”

Pop-data: The brain has high neuroplasticity, through all life. Hope for stroke victims, keep practicing and your brain can learn to route around damage. Don’t stop.

Chapter 3

As we go through…[the process of] intellectual maturation [in a topic], we are also acting out the entire history of [that topic]. Specifically, as a child moves from primitive mapmaking (“Square and Triangle house with me out front”) to abstracted designs, assuming technical competence, (blueprint of my house on a birds-eye-view map…) we trace the evolution of that concept’s “being needed” through history. Lascaux caves didn’t need abstracted maps to know where a kill zone was.

Tools come in 4 varieties:

  • Sense amplifying: binoculars
  • Body amplifying: forklift
  • Nature altering: reservoir
  • Mind amplifying: clock,books, Web

The clock and the map changed us to believe there was an a priori entity “time” or “geography” that nostris abitis exists without us. A clock teaches us that something else is marking out a reality external to us but that we participate in, but it is we ourselves who created the thing! Cf. A. Huxley Island who points out that the gods are our inventions that we move that who, in turn, move us.

Walter Ong: “Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word.”

Technology has an intellectual ethic that goes with it, rarely recognized by its creators (Carr, 45). Our intellectual ethic is defined by books (even now, although slipping). Starts with Plato in the Phaedrus extolling written over oral knowledge transmission. Unsurprising, he was rich and well-born.

Chapter 4

Books went from being the realm of the rich to the many. The intellectual ethic (Chapter 3) went “viral.”

“[we]…trained our brains to control and concentrate attention (Carr, 64)”

“The reader becomes the book” in “deep reading.”

Books, their mass production, re-patterned, or pre-patterned in the case of children, the assumption of books’ existence and the requisite ability to focus and hold a thread of argument or description across units of time. This patterning may not be happening anymore, a stronger pattern is coming.

Chapter 5

The internet is ubiquitous and more media (including print journals) are going ot it. Hunter S. Thompson is only possible in a “Rolling Stone” that needs more pages. TV is looking more like the net, only so that it doesn’t let itself go to obsolescence. Libraries are replacing books with laptop space.

Chapter 6

No, hypermedia / web is not an improvement to a book. The image of a book: imago libri.

Book reading may return to being the activity of the rich. Mass book reading was a blip thanks to cheap paper presses. Steven: Soon the plebs will be amused by twitter and other Idiocratic “ow my balls” amusements while the skill to read, the will so to do, will return to the wealth classes whence reading started pre-Gutenberg.

The plebs will not know that their addiction to blip-meia has marked them as lower-class more surely than an Eliza Doolittle faux pas.

Consider the irony of the “populist” movements. It’s not that the “Tea Party” members actually know the material better, instead they believe in blip-media icons who interpret the facts for them and give them signs to promulgate as if they had read the material. Cf. “The Onion: Area Man Passionate Defender Of What He Imagines Constitution To Be”

“Our indulgence in the pleasures of informality and immediacy has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and a loss of eloquence (Carr 108).”

Chapter 7


The brain /is not/ a hard drive. It requires gaps to process and take in information. You’re filling a bathtub with a thimble, in that gap to refill the thimble magic happens. Continued bombardment creates superficiality and fleetingness in what you’ve “learned.”

The promise of hypermedia / video everywhere viz. pedagogy has not been achieved. It’s not made schooling better / faster.

Multitasking is a lie.

Chapter 8


Search engines are not a replacement for learning. A linked up library of alexandria (google books) with convenient hyperlinks is not better than books or a library. All that noise and clicking, the medium of online display is not conducive to actual reflective, stored reasoning.

The old “it’s not the technology it’s who uses it” is false. This is the important note about mind-altering tools. They have strong neurological changes. Give a man a shovel, he will still become strong. Give a man a Web and he will only be able to learn and think with it on, all the time, with him.

Any wonder, then, that always on devices are becoming so…essential? London cabbies’ knowledge is fading, kids’ ability to read a map, thanks GPS.

Google as Taylorist utopia. Everything is measured, A/B validated. Everything is measured in efficacy to the point sought. They cannot provide the context for the integration of the idea.

Chapter 9

“As people grew accustomed to writing down their thoughts and reading the thoughts others had written down, they became less dependent on the contents of their own memory (Carr, 177).”

“Naomi Baron: …a gentleman’s commonplace book …served…vehicle for and chronicle of his intellectual development (Carr 180)”

Memorization, a side effect of reading, or an accelerated effect of work is important and should be taken seriously.

The Net is not as the calculator. A calculator saves work of one type of memory, while you exercise the other. The Net mixes the two thus you hurt one at the expense of the other. The Web attacks working memory the calculator does not.

DF Wallace: “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think (Carr 194-5).”

Chapter 10

“Our ability to meld with all manner of tools is one of the qualities that most distinguishes us as a species (Carr, 208).”

Weizenbaum: “The computer was not a prerequisite to the survival of modern society in the post-war period and beyond, it’s enthusiastic, uncritical embrace by the most ‘progressive’ elements of american government, business and industry made it a resource essential to society’s survival in the form that the computer itself had been instrumental in shaping.” That is, what is the rule of the world that requires computers to function? It cannot function without computers. Computers’ existence creates a life where they cannot be rejected.

McLuhan: our tools end up ’numbing’ whatever part of the body they ‘amplify’. the fingers became numb thanks to industrial weakving.

Even as our technologies become extenions of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies

TS Eliot: The typewriter makes for lucidity, but I am not sure that it encourages subtlety.

Even knowing he talks to an ELIZA-bot, humans attribute minds where they are not.

Heidegger: “tide of technological revolution…so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that the calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking.” The “frenziedness of technology threatens to entrench itself everywhere.” We are welcoming the frenziedness into our souls (222)


Ironically, HAL, the AI’s meltdown and statement of fear, paranoia, is human. We are becoming the artificial. “as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that