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The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

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Chris Schott

on 27 November 2018

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Transcript of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

"Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose.

That’s rarely the case anymore.

Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."
Carr offers a timeline of technological
advancements and techniques that
he thinks exemplifies this point. For example...

"Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
to my
"I missed my old brain."
Shifts in literacy have occurred with
every technological advancement.
Carr States:
Dom DeLuise?
Everything was
better when
it was worse!
In 2008, Nicholas Carr published
"Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in The Atlantic.
This article was later turned into
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (2010).
The main idea.
Digital culture is shifting (and perhaps diminishing) our ability to read, focus on, comprehend, and internalize long pieces of text.
In other words, digital technologies are profoundly changing the ways in which we think and interact with information.

Carr makes the case for technology impacting not just the development of literacy, but even our idea of what literacy is.
Making the world smaller
of thinking
Do the devices we use, especially the ones that have become embedded in our day-to-day activities, have a profound impact on our cognitive abilities?
You are what you eat?
1. Is Google Making us Stupid?
2. Digital Natives
3. What's coming up?
Is Carr making a big deal out of nothing here?
Technological Determinists
Technology is controlling us.

"The medium is the message."

Humans are "the sex organs
of the machine world."
-Marshall McLuhan
People are too concerned with the practical
benefits of technology to see the ethical concerns.
Downplay technology's power

People are still agents in their own development

My wife quit Facebook.
"If experience of modern society show us anything, it is that technology are not merely aids to human activity, but also powerful forces acting to reshape that activity and its meaning."
"I want to learn about peoples' lives when I speak with them."
“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.”
Is Socrates being short-sided? Is he right? Wrong? Both?
When the printing press gave way to the mass production of books, publishers worried that no one would want to read one because with the increase in their availability would come an irreverence to their existence.

It was also about power. Increasing the literacy rate would lead to a "diminishing of quality ideas," as they become more saturated in print.
What does any of this have to do with science writing?
The majority of content, these days, is written on/for screens, not printed paper.

When we can better understand the theoretical concerns in place with how screens may be re-shaping our collective literacies, we can be better prepared to create content for screens that still accomplish what we want as scientific communicators.
How much control do some technologies have over how we live our day-to-day lives?
easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling.
It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process
, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation.
Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed.

The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.
The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”
The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.”
In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.
Digital Natives Debate
"They are held to be
active experiential learners
proficient in multitasking
, and
dependent on communications technologies for accessing information and for interacting with others
(Frand, 2000; Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Prensky, 2001a, b; Tapscott, 1999)."

"In the seminal literature on digital natives, these assertions are put forward with limited empirical evidence (eg, Tapscott, 1998), or supported by anecdotes and appeals to common-sense beliefs (eg, Prensky, 2001a)."

"Some of this research (Kennedy et al, 2006);Kvavik et al, 2005) has identified potential differences related to socio-economic status,
cultural/ethnic background, gender and discipline specialisation, but these are yet to be comprehensively investigated. Also not yet explored is the relationship between technology access, use and skill, and the attitudinal characteristics and dispositions commonly ascribed to the digital native generation."

"The results also suggest that the frequency and nature of children’s
Internet use differs between age groups and socio-economic background. For instance, Internet use by teenagers is far from uniform and depends on the contexts of use, with widely varying experiences according to children’s school and home backgrounds (Lee, 2005). This is further supported by recent research showing family dynamics and the level of domestic affluence to be significant factors influencing the nature of children’s
home computer use (Downes, 2002). These findings suggest that technology skills and experience are far from universal among young people."
"Such generalisations about a whole generation of young people thereby focus attention on technically adept students. With this comes the danger that those less interested and
less able will be neglected, and that the potential impact of socio-economic and cultural
factors will be overlooked. It may be that there is as much variation within the digital
native generation as between the generations.
Technological and cultural shifts tend to present opportunities for grand generalization--but they rarely account for how individuals and their experiences are contextual their own histories, surroundings, and influences.
The authors claim we're suffering from MORAL PANIC.
"Cohen’s (1972) notion of a ‘moral panic’ is helpful in understanding the form taken by
the digital natives debate. In general,
moral panics occur when a particular group in
society, such as a youth subculture, is portrayed by the news media as embodying a
threat to societal values and norms
. The attitudes and practices of the group are subjected
to intense media focus, which, couched in sensationalist language, amplifies the
apparent threat. So,
the term ‘moral panic’ refers to the form the public discourse takes
rather than to an actual panic among the populous.
: Article Review 3 is due tonight.
In discussion of [
], a controversial issue is whether [
]. While some argue that [BLANK], other demand that [
]. This is to say that [
But aren't templates a little...reductive...prescriptive...passive?
We can develop our own voices as we explore our ideas through the voices of others.
The templates can direct writers to key rhetorical moves. They can prompt thinking through offering sample language.
There are chapters on science writing and social science writing. I will get these chapters scanned and given to you.

However, the entire book is worth owning.
For Monday
Read: Kantz, “Helping Students Use
Textual Sources Persuasively”

We'll talk about
source integration
Annotated Bibliography Due
Full transcript