In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr explains that for all of the internet’s merits, it has negatively impacted our ability to focus- whether on a long book or even a conversation.
While reading, I suspected he was right about this, as I remembered how I used to completely tune out the world while reading, especially before I had a cell phone. Now, I am able to do so only if I am somewhere isolated, such as at the beach or the park, with minimal distractions— no cell phone, music, or other people.
To test Carr’s theory, I kept a tally of every time I got distracted while reading his book. As it turns out, it happens embarrassingly often, and it doesn’t take much; It could be a car alarm outside or my cat walking into the room.
Ultimately, I strongly believe that the internet is a positive tool, despite Carr’s fears of its effect on our brains. However, this book has made me think about my ability to focus, or lack thereof, and it is something I will be more conscious of going forward.
To support the text, here is an interview with Carr, where he discusses the book, as well as the backlash from the first time he discussed this topic in a 2008 piece, Is Google making us stupid?
For the record, while watching this five-minute video, I checked my phone three times.
Illustration by Patrick Thomas, The New York Times.