An Interview with Nicholas Carr
Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, speaks about the brain
What should we be concerned about?
everyday functions. The big shift underway is that we’re training our
brains to take in lots of information quickly but losing our ability to
pay attention and the ability to filter out nonessential or trivial
information. We’re training ourselves to pay attention to everything
even when we’re not online, but doing normal everyday things.
In general I’m fearful we’re expanding our social relations so we can
be in touch, so frequently I fear we will sacrifice some depth. All of
us have had the experience of talking to someone while they are texting
or searching for something online. You have the feeling of superficial
conversation. We can no longer give our attention to another person.
The Shallows applies to the way we think but I fear it could apply to
How does this affect knowledge?
One of the things we risk
is losing a broader perspective on knowledge or knowing what you don’t
know. Jumping around and finding bits and pieces of information works
against the ability to stand back and fit that information into a
broader picture. When we go online we don’t see the forest or even
trees. We see twigs and leaves and risk seeing how they fit into
How is the Web different from the printed page?
page encourages concentrated thought, thinking deeply and richly with
interpretation. The Web as a medium floods us with distractions. It’s
different and less satisfying. The original Kindle didn’t have a lot of
multi-functionality going on. They keep adding more functions and
buttons so it’s becoming more like a computer. I don’t see those as
returning us to the deep concentration of reading a book.
How does technology affect us on a macro level?
disintegrate very quickly. For example, stock market trading. As these
systems become more complex and more based on software, it encourages
people with a lot of technical skill to game the system. There’s also a
tension in the Internet between using it for openness for the free
exchange of information or manipulating it centrally for propaganda
purposes. It’s a constant cat and mouse game and there continues to be
a theme of both liberating and controlling forces.
Can the brain come back?
You can reverse the process. The
best exercise is to sit quietly and think about one thing. Meditation
can be part of it. It’s not just about freeing your mind of
distractions but being able to focus on one line of thought, to be able
to think in a linear way without losing your train of thought.
Nicholas Carr, former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review,
is a best selling author and regular contributor to The Atlantic, The
New York Times, Wired and the Guardian.
Published: August 08, 2010
Issue: Fall 2010 Issue