Atmosphere

Your Brain Online

A local author's take on our disappearing minds.

June 2010

When Boulderite Nicholas Carr asked the world, "Is Google making us stoopid?" on an Atlantic Monthly cover two years ago, the world responded: Well, shoot...Maybe it is. But heck, we're in too deep to fix it now. Bring on the iGadget. So Carr pursued the notion further, resulting in his third book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (W.W. Norton and Company, June). Each chapter is a provoking commentary on human ability to absorb, process, and communicate information with the evolution of "intellectual technologies"—or technologies that think for us.

In a nutshell, what's your message?
I'm really wary of this question; kind of the whole point is that we need to get away from the "nutshell." The Internet is pushing us to be more superficial thinkers. Maybe we shouldn't go with the flow of technology, but stop and think—because, ultimately, we as individuals have control over what we pay attention to.

You point out that we never really have to disconnect from anything. Is that good or bad?
I think it's both. The problem isn't that we have e-mail and texting. It's that they don't leave room for other ways of thinking—valuable ways, deeply human ways of thinking. At some basic level, we're all kind of Pavlov's dogs, responding to rewards.

What would happen if the Internet were to suddenly vanish?
Widespread panic followed quickly by paralysis. A deep, fundamental part of our nature is to want to keep gathering information. But as a species, human beings are very adaptable. At some point we have to be alone with our thoughts.

Paint us a picture 50 years from now.
Our connection to "the network" becomes more and more seamless. It's incorporated more into automobiles and airplanes. The digital world and the real world increasingly merge. We're already between two worlds.

Could there be an anti-Internet revolution ?
I'd guess in the next five years, among some subset of the population, there will be a growing movement to go back to a simpler world of communicating and interacting. It'll be very counterculture. I would hope that young people begin to question and rebel.