Welcome to Week Three of our book study on “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr! This week, we will explore chapters 4, 5, and 6, which delve into the history of writing, the evolution of technology, and the impact of the internet on our reading habits and cognitive processes. Join our asynchronous conversation for Week 3 of the book.

Did you miss week 2?

Or start from the beginning at week 1.

Chapter 4: The Deepening Page

Chapter 4 of “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr explores the evolution of writing technology and its impact on human cognition and culture. Carr traces the origins of writing, highlighting early systems like scriptura continua that demanded intense mental effort. He discusses the transition to more efficient reading with spaces between words and word order conventions. Carr also explores how these changes influenced the human brain, developing sustained attention and the “literary brain.” He mentions the liberation of writers through advanced writing technologies, fostering personal and adventurous literature. The chapter connects historical developments to the Gutenberg press, democratizing book access and boosting literacy. He argues that writing technology deepened human consciousness and basically shaped our collective identity.

We cannot go back to the lost oral world, any more than we can turn the clock back to a time before the clock existed. “Writing and print and the computer,” writes Walter Ong, “are all ways of technologizing the word” and once technologized, the word cannot be de-technologized.

This quote is like alarm bells going off in my mind, “Once technologized, the word cannot be de-technologized,” when I think about how it applies to AI. AI is transforming communication and it will leave a lasting digital footprint. Ethical AI use and its cultural impact require careful consideration. AI’s role in shaping the future society underscores the irreversible impact of technology on language, culture and collective identity.

Reflect on how the internet has already transformed the way we think, access information, and communicate. Considering the rise of AI, how do you envision our brains evolving in response to new technologies and their influence on our cognitive processes?

More info on reading in the digital age:

A Digression on Lee de Forest and His Amazing Audion

It is interesting that “moral depravity” was of concern to him at the onset of commercial broadcast. Did that line jump out to you?

Chapter 5: A medium of the Most General Nature

In “The Shallows,” Chapter 5, Nicholas Carr explores the profound impact of the Internet, which realizes Alan Turing’s universal machine vision. He contrasts Turing’s early machine with the modern Internet, highlighting its speed and digitization of media, reducing computing costs since the 1960s.

Carr emphasizes the Internet’s bi-directionality, enabling user-generated content alongside consumption, leading to increased online time without replacing screen time. The chapter notes the decline of print media in favor of digital formats, rendering old technologies obsolete.

So, I wonder…

Is the internet a tool we control or a force that shapes us? This chapter challenges us to critically assess how our relationship with technology influences our thinking patterns.

Let’s talk about “Bi-Directionality.”

Traditional forms of reading like newspapers, television, and radio involve one-way content flow whereas the internet allows us to interact with the message instantly like messaging, creating content about the content, creating a dynamic, interactive, and democratic media landscape. The ability to instantly message, create content in response to existing content, and engage with a global audience has given rise to a dynamic, interactive, and democratic media space. What’s even more exciting is the role that AI is playing in this transformation. AI empowers ALL of us to generate videos, images, and texts, opening up new avenues for creative expression and divergent thinking. It can even take a difficult concept you are struggling with and explain it in a way you need to understand it, and it doesn’t get tired, it will give you examples and explain until you have your aha.

This democratization of information systems (media) is incredibly powerful. It levels the playing field – and allows everyone to have their voices heard, share their perspectives, and contribute to a more diverse and inclusive discourse. It’s a reminder of the incredible potential that technology holds when harnessed for the greater good. Knowing what we know about these possibilities, it’s an exciting time to be part of this evolving media landscape, where the boundaries between creators and consumers continue to blur, ushering in an era of boundless creativity and connectivity.

What do you think?

Chapter 6: The Very Image of a Book

In Chapter 6 of “The Shallows,” we explore how digital technology is changing the fate of printed books and impacting reading and intellectual culture. Carr notes the rise of e-readers. He discusses a trend of “groupiness” in writing and reading driven by online engagement which potentially marginalizes literary readers due to click bait, or writing for search engines instead of depth. Carr reflects on historical predictions about technology replacing books and questions the impact of the internet on traditional reading habits. This chapter highlights the complex shift in reading habits and intellectual culture due to digitization.

All I can really think about is in what ways might we preserve the depth and richness of literary experiences? What can we really do about this?

Hopefully as we read on we can get more information on this. 

At this point in the book, What are questions that you are having?