The Shallows by Nicholas Carr – A TTW Guest Post by Dayna Armstrong

Context Book Assignment: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

For my context book assignment I admit that I picked my book solely based on its title. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr was my first choice as I found the title very thought provoking and I immediately asked myself “What is the internet really doing to my brain? Has it really done anything at all? How do I know if it has? I knew it was the book for me when it got me thinking before evening reading the first page.

After reading The Shallows, I was left both in awe and horror over how much influence the Internet has had over my ability to concentrate, contemplate, and engage with both print based and online information. I can remember back to a time when reading was a luxury I treasured. I could immerse myself within the confines of a book for hours, never tiring, and always craving the words on the next page. However, that voracious love of deep and meaningful reading has slowly given way to adult bouts of ADD where reading the contents of a lengthy article or book in now more of a chore than a pleasure. I ask myself ‘has my love affair with the Internet sacrificed my ability to engage in more than surface level reading? Is the quick, disjointed, and distracted information so readily available at the stroke of a button worth the slow demise of my ability to engage in the act of reading wholeheartedly, not distractedly and fragmented, impeded by my need to “stay connected?” These are questions I believe many of us have asked ourselves or should begin to ask ourselves. As information professionals we need to start thinking about how the Internet driven brain impacts our profession and more importantly how can we support the idea of tradition versus innovation when today’s brains seem to be wired for instant access not technologies of days gone by. This has been an issue at the forefront of the profession and library’s have responded and will continue to respond to this shift in user ability, demand, and need facilitated by rapidity of the Internet.

What I loved most about Carr’s book is that he raises the question of how have “tools of the mind” which have been in a progressive state of evolution over the last few centuries, altered and reshaped the way we think and interact not only with information but with each other? From the creation of the alphabet, to Gutenberg’s printing press, to the Internet today, Carr charts an evolutionary course which transcends the human mind past the realm of intellectual engagement, connection, and community, into what he calls the “intellectual shallows.”  I ask myself and others, how do we navigate our way through these so called “intellectual shallows?” I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer to this question.

I think today’s librarians can glean a lot from The Shallows in terms of how a patron’s rewired and remapped “Internet” influenced brain impacts library service and ways in which they can as library professionals support this “mental evolution” while still holding true to traditional values such as deep reading and fostering of a user’s deep level knowledge and understanding. Today’s libraries have already embraced and adapted to this change in numerous ways, as most public library’s today are no longer synonymous with the term “oasis of bookish tranquility” instead becoming buzzing hubs of information and constant connectors between users and information via the Internet, “The predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys, not the turning of pages” (Carr, 2010, pg. 97). By providing access to the Internet, digitizing materials for easier access, and facilitating and nurturing online communities, hyperlinked libraries are continually working to appease brains that are in a constant state of flux. The DOK library instantly comes to mind as they have been able to fuse this love of tradition with the need of innovation spurred by the Internet. Their use of technology as a means of reinforcing community and culture is important as it does so in a way that meets the needs of Internet wired brains where immediacy, relevancy, and innovation is key in keeping them connected not only the library but to their community. The demise of the “human elements” Carr speaks about is kept very much alive at DOK as technology and the Internet are not seen as opposing forces to a library’s humanness rather a companion that helps foster communication, interaction, collaboration, and community.

“To remain vital, culture must be renewed in the minds of the members of every generation. Outsource memory, and culture withers” (Carr, 2010, pg. 197). This quote resonated with me and got me thinking about how through hyperlinked libraries and participatory service, community culture is cultivated, fostered, and celebrated by engaging patrons in storytelling, sharing, and collaboration through the use of technology which works to digitize, preserve, and share a community’s cultural fabric and memories. I think one very important aspect of hyperlinked libraries is that they strive to keep communities connected to culture through the use of various technologies none of which work to supplant the beauty and power of a tangible, personal, and heartfelt interaction, but rather serve as a supplement. Much of Carr’s book focuses on the idea that “human elements are outmoded and dispensable” and that the Internet has the power and capacity to make the human mind in some ways obsolete and a “slave to the machine.” But I argue that this form of enslavement is somewhat self induced. We as a society love the seductive allure of the Internet and its ability to keep us connected and relevant. I believe the Internet has changed the way I think but not necessarily for the worse. Yes I may not be able to read as in-depth as I once did, but I have access to a plethora of information I can utilize for the good of others and as a library professional can help use that “rewiring and reprogramming” to help guide and support the information needs of my users who also find themselves trying to navigate the unchartered waters of the “intellectual shallows.”

I could write pages upon pages about my thoughts on Carr’s book but instead I decided to create a brief Animoto video which highlights key points, quotes, questions and ideas I pulled from the text and its connection to hyperlinked libraries and the library profession in general. This video is for those of us whose brains no longer read lengthy paragraphs with ease! Its purpose is to get you thinking about how the internet has changed your brain (whether positively or negatively) and how this rewiring, remapping, and reprogramming of the mind impacts your role as a library professional. I hope you enjoy!

My Animoto Video (2 min):

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.


DaynaArmstrongDayna currently resides in Northern California and is currently in her last semester of San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science. Her program focus has been academic librarianship and she hopes to integrate her love of social media and technology into future positions. In her spare time she loves reading, hiking, and spending time with her husband and their five cats!

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