Country Roots in a Computer World

Carr starts the second section of The Shallows writing about the survival of the book and reiterating his comparison of online text to print text. He writes, “It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards” (p. 116). When I began to read the chapter, I was uneasy about his strong bias towards the book, but with this statement he looped me in to his argument with the reward component. The varying literacy styles can be debated, but the rewards offered by the web extend beyond this.

Carr eloquently juxtaposes the benefits and dangers of the online interface in two sentences. “The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment” (p. 117). I know I can relate to this with my use of Facebook where I quickly glace to see how many people like my picture or comment on my post. From such a metaphor, he again goes back to his repeating thesis that the internet has an impact on our brains by saying, “The Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli- repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive- that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions” (p. 116). I must admit when he again went into the implications on the mind in great detail I began seeking bits of intellectual snacks rather than digesting it all because my appetite for the subject was weaning.

I really appreciated how thoroughly Carr investigated Google. Since it plays such a prominent role in Internet use today, I believe it is pertinent to know about it’s history, research tactics, and business approaches and strategies. Thinking of media literacy which involves both the analyses and creation of media messages the Internet is fascinating to me because it of course, it much more multifaceted and complex than other media we have encountered before. To produce an online media product is it enough to make a Tumblr or WordPress account or should production only be validated in the creation of websites through code? Will only then people fully understand the workings of the web? Is code the curtain between consumers and creators? Or are all the platforms offered to create without code better options since they are what made web 2.0 and allow those, who otherwise would be limited, to contribute their ideas?

I have taught two courses where I had students create websites using WordPress or Wix merely for practical purposes. They still learned many valuable skills and improved their knowledge on the basic ideas behind the layout and design of websites, but it is definitely something I’d like to explore more. In the process of making publishable sites, they needed to obtain information to share, which is where the use of the web tied in.

“What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest,” Carr writes (p. 138). This is perhaps my favorite quote out of the whole book because it depicts such a visual understanding for me. Growing up in the country with a keen sense of what each word in his statement meant aligned with the historical significance of its reference, I mentally clung to this quote as I read the rest of the book. Going back to my web courses I taught, I most definitely observed the students rapidly clicking through the search engines and scanning through the sites, only pausing briefly to gather a few berries of information without much thought. As an educator, I feel it is my role to teach them how to become hunters in the ‘electronic data forest.’ In contrast to a gatherer, a hunter has focus, patience, and selectivity.

Staying on the same country note, Carr goes into studies comparing the mental capacities of individuals in urban settings compared to those in rural settings. While it is not a reasonable solution to have everyone move to the country and escape the technology and noise of city living, it is reasonable that people take Carr’s advice and pause every now and then. “Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion,” Carr writes (p. 168). This should not be how it is and I am fortunate that my parents emphasized such a point in my upbringing.

As a result of my roots, I found it is necessary for me to spend time outside everyday unattached to any technology (yes, I even put my phone away). While this may still be extreme for some, I observed my colleagues over the past year who were actually less involved with technology than I was but were using it more often in long time spans and they seemed to be much more hurried, distracted, overwhelmed and anti-social to some degree.

Knowing my family was an important part of how I am aware of technology, I found Carr’s touch on culture intriguing. He was specifically writing about how people use technology to store information, which includes memories. “The offloading of memory to external data banks doesn’t just threaten the depth and distinctiveness of the self. It threatens the depth and distinctiveness of the culture we all share,” he writes (p. 196). I do not think he went into enough detail on the culture component in the text for me to fully align with his statement “outsource memory, and culture withers” (p. 197). It seems in this section as if life doesn’t exist outside of the computer. Culture is alive amongst events and personal interactions and the media itself so I do not think it will ever come down to it just being written electronically.

Towards the end of the book Carr more directly relates to McLuhan once again. He makes the very ‘McLuhan-ey’ statement, “Even as our technologies become extensions of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies”  (p. 209). This reiterates a strong point he is making in the book about the psychological, cognitive and societal influence of the Internet on humans. As I am learning more about the media literacy field I am interested in I am finding out how much McLuhan and his famous statement “the medium is the message” plays into theoretical framework informing scholars today.

Now that I am done going through specific sections of the book, I’d like to end on the question: what was left out? More importantly, what are some significant points I believe he left out? I think he should have played up the significance of the ‘copy-and-paste’ function that computers allow us to do. It would have been interesting to read the implications when applied to the Internet where others work is published. In association with this, I was also wondering where copyright and fair use were in the book. What I address was touched upon in the Google book scanning part, but not in a deep level and broadened to larger applications. At large, the sharing of information was not addressed as much as the processing of information in the text. How does the sharing of information via technology and the Internet fit into the many points Carr made? What are the most crucial arguments and facts in this book that are important to pass on to other teachers and scholars in the field? How can Carr’s demonstration of integrating history into his cautions for the future be applied elsewhere in this field (digital media education)? Lastly, the big question… what is to come next?

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