Nicholas Carr writes on the social, economic, and business implications of technology. He is the author of the 2008 Wall Street Journal bestseller "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google," which is "widely considered to be the most influential book so far on the cloud computing movement," according the Christian Science Monitor. His earlier book, "Does IT Matter?," published in 2004, "lays out the simple truths of the economics of information technology in a lucid way, with cogent examples and clear analysis," said The New York Times. His new book is "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains."
Carr has also written for many periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Financial Times, Die Zeit, The Futurist, and Advertising Age, and has been a columnist for The Guardian and The Industry Standard. His much-discussed essay "Is Google Making Us Stupid?," which appeared as the cover story of the Atlantic Monthly's Ideas issue in the summer of 2008, has been collected in three popular anthologies. Carr has written a personal blog, Rough Type, since 2005. He is a member of the Encyclopaedia Britannica's editorial board of advisors and is on the steering board of the World Economic Forum's cloud computing project.
Carr holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A., in English and American literature and language, from Harvard University.
Question: How can we resist the Internet’s effect on our brains?
Nicholas Carr: I think the solution, so to speak, to this problem is pretty simple to state. I mean, if you want to change your brain, you change your habits. You change your habits of thinking. And that means, you know, setting aside time to engage in more contemplative, more reflective ways of thinking and that means, you know, setting aside time to engage in more contemplative, more reflective ways of thinking, to be – to screen out distractions. And that means retreating from digital media and from the web and from Smart Phones and texting and Facebook and Tweeting and everything else.
And so that’s a pretty obvious solution. What’s hard is actually doing it. Because it’s no longer just a matter of personal choice, of personal discipline, though obviously those things are always important, but what we’re seeing and we see this over and over again in the history of technology, is that the technology – the technology of the web, the technology of digital media, gets entwined very, very deeply into social processes, into expectations. So more and more, for instance in our work lives. You know, if our boss and all our colleagues are constantly exchanging messages, constantly checking email on their Blackberry or iPhone or their Droid or whatever, then it becomes very difficult to say, I’m not going to be as connected because you feel like you’re career is going to take a hit. And that same expectation is now moving over into our social lives, particularly for young people.
If all your friends are planning their social lives through texts and Facebook and Twitter and so forth, then to back away from that means to feel socially isolated. And of course for all people, particularly for young people, there’s kind of nothing worse than feeling socially isolated, that your friends are you know, having these conversations and you’re not involved. So it’s easy to say the solution, which is to, you know, becomes a little bit more disconnected. What’s hard it actually doing that. And I think that all of us, including myself who try, find that it’s really a struggle because were so kind of – we’re so used to craving constant streams of new information that it’s kind of bewildering to be alone with our thoughts these days.
Recorded November 10, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
What scares me most is how we start to think the way the technology wants us to think.