Thoughts on "The Shallows" by Nicholas Carr

originally written for MediaSalt.com


Every now and then you start reading a book that just messes you up every time you get the chance to sit down and read it, even if for just a little bit. That book for me right now is “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr.

I’m only about a third into it, but it’s quickly become my new conversation starter.

I can only vaguely remember a time before cell phones were common.

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When I was 16 I forgot to call home from school one day and tell my mom I was staying late to work on the yearbook and, as punishment, I got a cell phone. I know, I know… I was such a rebel. I can only vaguely remember it, but I can remember it. It’s not a huge mental leap for me to think about what life was like before cell phones or even landline phones. I’ve heard stories that you used to have this person called an “operator” who would connect you to other phones in your neighborhood.

Butwhataboutthingsthataresocompletelyengrainedinourmentaldevelopmentthattheyseemlikenaturalpartsofbeinghumanwhat aboutreadingandwritingandbookscanyouimagineaworldwithoutthemhowdidpeoplelearnandcommunicatelongargumentson theologyonhowchurchshouldberunandwhatweretheinstructionsforturningontheprojector?

Andcanyouimagineaworldwhereyouhavebooksandwrittenthingsbutnopunctuationandnospaces?

But we didn’t get spaces between words until the 13th century, writes Carr. Moving beyond Scriptura continua changed the world. Information could be longer, deeper, and more understood. Can you imagine, I mean really imagine, a world without books?

Our minds adapt to what they are fed.

Brain elasticity has been scientifically proven (this is the crux and opening of “The Shallows”). We are moving from an oral history passed down by generations to a book world with stories bound and permanent — Ultimately to a brave new Google world where infinite information is abundant in bite-sized morsels but lack any real integration of knowledge into our lives.

What does that do to our brains? How does that effect our wisdom?

What will the Church look like in just a few years?

If we are raising a generation of disciples who only know verses by searching at Bible Gatewayand have never read, synthesized, and understood the whole Gospel story, what will the Church look like in just a few years? Will our preachers be able to hold someone’s attention for more than 5 minutes when the gathered assembly of believers can seek out a tangent on their phone to see if their favorite author agrees with their pastor? Will we rely on lights and worship songs pulled from the radio to teach the theology that hymns were written to teach? Will video parables be the last great hope we have for reaching a media saturated generation?

I am so thankful for books like “Read the Bible in 90 Days” and “Read the Bible for Life” – Bibles and books that challenge us to concentrate on the Word. It’s not just that we’re being distracted by tweets and Facebook updates, it’s that we’re teaching our minds to embrace the distractions. Our minds are hungry for new nuggets of information and entertainment and product announcements; we are, literally and scientifically, training our minds to not have any desire to go deep.

I’m a third of the way through “The Shallows,” and these are my thoughts and questions. What have you read lately and where do we go from here?