Upon reading Nicholas Carr’s chapter ‘The Juggler’s Brain’ [1], I was simultaneously shocked and exasperated at the scaremongering that was rife among the text. Such examples include: ‘if […] you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the internet’, ‘the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use’, and ‘The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively’. I am not denying that these things are true, nor that they are worrying. But I do wish they were not presented in a manner that seems so apocalyptic and hyperbolic. By using long and convoluted scientific explanations, it feels as though Carr is trying to bully us into persuasion; it almost feels as though he is overloading our brains with information in much the sort of manner that he condemns the internet for.

What Carr seems to brush over is the fact that, as humans, our brains are designed to learn and adapt. This would not be the first instance in which a mass panic has been created over technology which turned out to be largely unfounded. Back in 1999, the YK2 virus was a serious concern and now, 17 years later, we are complaining that technology has come too far.

It would only be fair to balance the argument: to counter the apparently evil and manipulative effects of technology with its many positive uses. But Carr does not do that, his assertion towards the end that ‘the Net’s ability to monitor events and automatically send out messages and notifications is one of its great strengths as a communication technology’ feels a little bit like an afterthought. This is what makes me slightly disinclined to believe Carr’s arguments and be entirely persuaded by them.

For every psychological case study that ‘proves’ that things are one way, there is usually one to show that it is not that simple. The human brain is complex, and far from being fully understood as yet. I agree that we should be concerned by the findings of Carr’s cited case studies, and that perhaps he is right to make the public aware of the potential effects of consumption of technology on such a scale, I just do not think that it needs to be done in a manner that appears to encourage hysteria.

 

 

References:

[1] Nicholas Carr, ‘The Juggler’s Brain’, in The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (London: Atlantic, 2010), pp. 115-143.

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