Posted by: Joe Kuffner | November 9, 2015

Maybe What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a Good Thing?

I admit that I find myself more agreeing with the arguments in The Shallows than disagreeing. I too lament many of the changes in the way we consume media in the 21st century. But I can’t help but think of Nicholas Carr’s spiritual predecessors who lamented the advent of telephones, recorded music, radio, television… even writing.

I came to this realization at the end of chapter three, when he discusses the conflict between orality and literacy. You can almost imagine Socrates writing the Ancient Greek edition of The Shallows. That is, if he didn’t believe that “dependence on the technology of the alphabet will alter a person’s mind, and not for the better.”

Carr goes on to reference Walter Ong, who says that writing is “utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of a fuller, interior, human potentials.” That losing oral culture was in fact creative destruction for the human consciousness.

Isn’t it possible that the internet and the way we consume media today could similarly have a cumulative effect that is positive rather than negative? I’m reminded of this interesting essay that pushes back against arguments that say the internet and modern technology cause social isolation.



  1. I like the point you raise, and found the article you shared very interesting. I, too, can’t help but worry that something becomes lost when we abandon physical experience for virtual experience. When I am out to dinner with a friend, for example, I’m (quietly) irked if he/she checks his/her phone; and for that reason, I make an effort not to check my own phone in those types of situations. I don’t blame them for their behavior, but instead take careful notice of my own. That’s really all that I can control, anyway. Personally, I think there should be a sort of etiquette concerning technology use, and I don’t see anything like that being taught in a non-judgmental, productive manner.

    I think Hector Carral’s argument is spot on when he says that we should not blame technology and innovation for our misuse of it. New technologies have improved our standards of living significantly, and can contribute to the development of some valuable skills. A big problem is self control, and I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we see more movements to educate the public about the overuse of technology, much like we see movements regarding smoking, drinking, unhealthy eating, and other activities that can be enriching in moderation, but detrimental if abused.

  2. P.S. Here is the Washington Post’s take on smartphone etiquette:

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