Question Forum 2
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1. Carr jumps into a robust argument to claim that the internet is affecting our brains and, in particular, our capacity for memory. He stipulates that the internet is a series of short-circuits that prevent us from engaging in enriched thought while simultaneously formulating us into simple single-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again.
To support this, Carr synthesizes various research findings that assert how we only stay on one web page for a brief period, then click to the next one and the next one and the next one. He claims that, as a generation, we skim what we read and willingly accept the loss of concentration. Do you believe this to be true? Are we as consumers to blame, or is the infinite content on the internet at fault? Has technology predisposed us to move quickly from one item to the next?

2. Do you agree with Carr's assessment of the Internet as a way to express ourselves or his assessment that it's turning us into lab rats? Explain.

3. Carr argues that we're losing "old intellectual functions" such as "quiet reflection and contemplation" for our new digital skills. Do you think this is a bad thing? Explain why or why not?

4. If Google is ever able to reach its goal of scanning every single book online, what do you think that would do to the publishing industry? Will people still prefer to read books in print if they can get them for free?


Katie Stitt

3. First, I disagree with Carr. I think that instead of employing traditional reflection and contemplation methods, we have evolved to embrace a new sense of reflection – participation. While many still value the silent and individualistic qualities that dominate reading print materials, the internet is arguable giving us more of a chance to reflect. Some still choose to keep things introspective, but the more common approach is to “contemplate” through group channels. In class, we discussed the culture surrounding print media. Libraries taught us to read silently, and teachers usually enforced this in school. The internet is a place where people can ignore those social norms and declare their innermost secrets and thoughts to the world.

Why does this work? Unlike Carr’s doomsday attitude, this new mode of reflection only highlights how we have embraced reflection and contemplation more by reacting to memory. Look at social media and other websites geared towards mass audiences. The emphasis is not to create private accounts. They are there because people want to share their thoughts and receive feedback. If anything, we have become incredibly good at outsourcing even reflection and thought. We seek advice from our peers – and even through search engines – and in doing so, we have created a new social norm. Now the emphasis is no longer on the individual, it is on a network of individuals. The internet is a canvas for thought, creation, and innovation. And the best part? You can be anonymous. Carr is wrong to say we are losing our ability to reflect, because now we reflect even more than before. We now have a way to separate ourselves from our own judgments. Instead of internally reflecting, we now leave the job to others.

I’m not so sure it’s completely healthy to put your whole life on a website, but people can’t help but measure their success socially by how many people commented on a picture or a status update on Facebook. Why do we do this but don’t do the same when reading a physical copy of a book? I think it is just a new cultural norm. We used to encourage self-thinking and reflection, but often the reflection never left the individual. This new culture is about sharing what you know and waiting for commentary. I think Carr should evaluate how we have evolved instead of wallowing about what we’ve left behind.


Ryan Molitor

4. If Google is ever able to reach its goal of scanning every book online I will revolt. Seriously.

With that said, who needs publishing companies when everything can be published online with the help of any word processor? Word processors will immediately tell you if what you’re writing is grammatically correct. Sentence fragments will be a thing of the past. This might also do something to the English language in general. Most people I meet these days that write anything simply don’t seem to understand homophones and how they are overlooked on a word processor. Even people older than myself don’t seem to understand that ‘there,’ ‘their, and ‘they’re’ are all different word with different meanings. If this lack of knowledge for someone’s native tongue persists, who knows where the language will end up?

But I digress. As writing will most certainly change as a result of Google making every single thing digitally accessible, so will reading. From my own perspective, Internet browsing is meant for fact-finding. I am looking for one thing, and as soon as I find it I am already onto the next order of business. This will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on the great American novel. Reading, to me, is an indulgence—something done for both entertainment and education. When leisurely reading, I like to be certain of everything I have read. I read down to every word, syllable, letter; and I hate to miss any details for fear it might change my entire perception of the novel. If novels are to be scanned and accessible only online I might just quit reading altogether. Something about staring at an ambient screen makes me want to get what I need and get out.

I believe printed books will always have to exist. They provide a certain atmosphere when reading them—the smell of the pages, the convenience factor, the durability—all of these give a nostalgic feel when reading a book. One that cannot be ignored and lets me know that no matter where I am indulging in a book, it is a sanctuary. The necessity for printed books will never disappear, no matter how powerful and infectious the internet becomes.

And another thing… books don’t have a battery-life. Chew on that for a second.


Christopher Roubo

3. While I am not sure if I would call this phenomenon as Carr explains it to be bad, I do feel that it’s certainly not a GOOD thing. I do feel at times that when I am on-line, I can multitask much more efficiently than pretty much when I do anything else. Currently, I’ve become so used to surfing online, that I do take quick glances at links whenever I try to perform a search for a topic. I can read through many links very quickly, but I do not process the information that I read at all.

I also find that I am becoming more and more like those people that Carr mentions that look for distractions on the Net, which may be a side-effect of losing my ability to “read and think deeply” (141). For instance, when trying to catch up in my readings, such as this very book The Shallows, I find that I want to listen to music or watch something on Youtube, even though I have trouble concentrating on my reading when I do so. At that time it comes to a point that I have to force myself away from my computer and sit down to read what I need to read.

So, while I can surf the Net with little trouble, I have to force myself sit down and read a book that I am required to read. The Net, while convenient in many ways, also tends to provide me with some many distractions that I find my mind wander more now than it used to, which can make being productive more difficult. However, I do not blame the Net for my problems. Instead, I believe that I, and many others with similar problems, need to exercise our self-control to avoid the various distractions on-line.


Annabeth Wonch

(2) I feel like I can agree with both sides of Carr’s argument; we are using the internet for personal reasons, but eventually, and probably unknowingly, we are turned into some sort of lab rat with the constant need for response to everything we post.

I think that everyone signs up with Facebook, or starts a blog, or makes a Twitter with relatively the same intentions: I want to keep updated with my friends, I want them to keep updated with me. Does anyone remember “The Old Facebook”? The Facebook that didn’t have multiple tabs on Profile Pages, didn’t allow you to “like” posts/pictures/notes/comments, and it didn’t even have Facebook chat. We all went into Facebook with the idea that it is a harmless way to stalk the people you know, and now its turned intoI thinkan unspoken competition to see who can get the most likes or comments. Which is unhealthy, and I think fuels everyone’s addiction to the internet. How many times do you refresh your page after putting up a new album of pictures to see if you got any new comments? Because you know everyone looked at them. Everyone does!

It’s the same thing with Twitter. I don’t believe everyone (I know many people, especially in college for some reason, think Twitter is stupid) signs up for a Twitter thinking about how many followers they can get. I signed up for one—granted I didn’t tell anyone I did—so I could follow magazines, sports teams, and musicians that I like. Now, unfortunately, I am addicted, and I do get excited when I get new followers. For example, I got an email on my phone—while I was reading The Shallows—that I got a new follower on Twitter. What did I do? Put down my book so I could get on my computer and check it out. Embarrassing.

I think when we get a new follower, friend, like or comment we get the same warm and fuzzy feeling we get from a real-life compliment. And then once you keep getting them, it becomes some sort of social crack and you want to get that constant reassurance that you are liked, or at least noticed.


Casey Whitehead

3. If what Carr argues is actually true, then yes I believe it is a bad thing; however I do not believe it is true, at least not in all cases. I believe this is a bad thing because I believe a lot of our learning, either educationally based or self-learning, occurs in a “quiet reflection and contemplation” state.

I agree with Carr when he says that the Internet is “training our brains to pay attention to crap” (142). I think the internet overwhelms users with so much that our brains tend to pay attention to the hyperlinks in the text, that bring us more information and more “crap”, like pop-up banner ads that continue to play even after pressing stop 30 times. These links and advertisements distract the reader from their initial goal; however I think our brains can learn and have learned to adapt and to ignore those distractions if we try hard enough. It is no different then trying to read a book in a crowded noisy room, you learn to block it out.

That being said, I believe that because we can adapt to the crap on the web, we can still engage in a reflective learning and contemplation. In fact, the web gives us many opportunities to expand our contemplations. We can now share them with the world through blogs and yes, even Facebook. People can self-reflect on the web, they just have to try a bit harder at it.

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Lauren Kaye

In response to the question asking: “Do you agree with Carr's assessment of the Internet as a way to express ourselves or his assessment that it's turning us into lab rats?” I say yes to both.

Carr points out that the website ClickTale “collected data on the behavior of a million visitors to sites maintained by its clients around the world,” (136). Carr doesn’t explain how the company obtained this data—whether or not the website users were aware of their data being collected—if users knew they were being researched. If the research was obtained in the same way that Google monitors its users’ clicks, (which I gather most people are unaware of because I did not know that Google tracked which ads I clicked on its website) users probably don’t know they’re being tracked. In this sense, internet users are anonymous lab rats because they don’t even know when they’re being monitored or studied.

I would also agree that the internet is being steered into a mode of self-expression. It seems that the most popular websites are websites that reflect users’ personal information. The internet is becoming more of a source of storing our personal information rather than a resource for information we don’t know. Users are attracted to the idea that they can manipulate the technological facet to reflect themselves. They are becoming permanent through their presence on the internet; they are making their mark, it would seem. Websites like Twitter, Facebook, myspace, and youtube give users a venue to display what they have to say and to define the media to their choosing.

Moreover, I would say that the more the internet becomes a mode of self-expression, the more it turns us into lab rats. For example, the more you use Facebook, build your profile, click on things you like, join groups, interact, the better the website gets to know you. Then it sends you messages, makes suggestions about whom you may know and what you might like to buy. The people behind the websites (advertisers, owners) have found a hook. They make the users believe that they are in control (of the information on their page. It reflects what they put in), but in reality, they are using the input information to sell their users and, in turn, sell to the users.

Because the advertisements are tuned into users interests, and because the suggestions and recommendations are personalized, a user might feel more inclined to follow the website’s advice. After all, it’s personalized; the website knows you. It recommends you become friends with people who are “friends” with your “friends,” so why not become their “friend”? Facebook wouldn’t suggest it if you didn’t qualify as “friends” by sharing so many mutual “friends.”

Equally, they have begun heavily advertising on this basis. I’ve noticed that websites I seldom visit (Overstock.com, AmericanApparel.com) are advertised along the panels of the web page, even though I never purchase from them. Overstock.com even remembers what I looked at and shows similar items. I think this idea is very seductive/ensnaring because it makes you think that this is of your choosing, but in fact it’s because they’ve used to media to their advantage. The people studying internet users are selling the information users input to get inside the users’ minds and manipulate them to use more and buy more.

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Amanda Thomas

(3) Carr suggests that as digital technology users we are sacrificing our depth of thought for our speed of thought. He provides substantial evidence that increased digital agility correlates to superficial thinking. Carr writes, “But our ‘new strengths in visual-spatial intelligence’ go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacities for the kind of ‘deep processing’ that underpins ‘mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.’” (Carr, 141). He also writes, “Improving our ability to multitask actually hampers our ability to think deeply and creatively.” (Carr, 140). When the choice becomes creativity or multitasking agility, in theory, I will choose creativity. Though admittedly, this is not always the case.

I prefer to allot a high value to deep thinking and reflection, and a lesser value to technological savviness. I possess moderate digital skills, and I use them in both social and academic contexts; however, I also regularly choose to “unplug” and exercise my ability to reflect. I work two small jobs, one a dog kennel, the other a horse barn. When I go to work, I create for myself an environment of technology-free silence; my cell phone stays in my truck and the barn radio is off, I carry no IPod and, needless to say, I access no internet. In the silence I think, I reflect, I analyze and remember. I use this time to process through life and make decisions. It is typically refreshing.

Losing the ability to think deeply scares me, but to an extent so does being unable to function in the technological world. Carr writes, “’Our jobs depend on connectivity’ and ‘our pleasure-cycles—no trivial matter—are increasingly tied to it.’” (Carr, 140). Technology is increasingly becoming ingrained in social and professional life; technological abstinence is not an option. Neither the loss of deep though, nor the loss of digital speed is good. Can a balance exist?

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April Baker

I already treat Google as if it knows pretty much everything - research, directions, calculator… I’ve even somehow convinced myself that Googling anything is faster than remembering and typing in any actual web address. However, I personally have never used Google to read a book. In fact, I just went to check it out, and WOW, they’re not even kidding. Why would I ever want to read Plato’s The Republic or Sense and Sensibility online? Ever?

Carr says we treat everything we read as if we’re looking on the internet – skimming, scanning, darting our eyes across pages to gather snippets of information. And I think it’s true that all this unstoppable access to digital technology has made me approach research and studying differently, and I feel more aware about how much time I can really dedicate to one task. But I still like to think that I have the ability to apply that type of thinking in different contexts, and use my deep-thinking, comprehending conscious when I need it.

So when I’m reading a novel, I read it because I’m interested. I want to get to know the characters and get caught up in the plot. And then I’ll try to carry the book with me everywhere I go, even if the ticket guy at the movies wants to know why I’ve got a book in a theater. I’ll rent it and be careful to have it back to the library on time, or I’ll buy my own copy with my own money and take special care of it so it lasts a little longer.

I can’t do any of those things with an online book. I don’t know that I have any particular connection to the way a book smells, but I do like to hold it. I don’t even mind if it’s used and someone else has made all their notes in it; sometimes, I even like that better. So why would I never buy another printed book? And if I already know that reading online makes me prone to reading less thoroughly, why would I make myself do it?

Because no matter how much I love to own and hold and read a printed book, it doesn’t change the practicality of what Google is doing. An unlimited archive of free books on a free website – it doesn’t get much free-er than that, and publishers defintely can’t compete. I downloaded The Red Badge of Courage, and Google’s cover page seems proud, almost to the point of arrogance, about how it was expensive, but they have managed to preserve the quality of the original book, even down to any handwritten notes. And it’s true that they’re preserving a single copy of history, and they’re doing it at a really great price. But no matter how hard they try, they’ll never entirely preserve all the components of print culture.

In this instance, I think Google books is becoming a technology that the public doesn’t necessarily want, but they’ll become compelled to use, because no one else – meaning publishing companies – can compete with the product they offer.

Amanda Duncan

3) I am kind of mixed in my response to Carr’s assertation that we are losing the skills to be contemplative and studious. On one hand, I do find that I am less able to focus on certain things that require quiet thinking and contemplation. But on the other hand, I feel like his assumptions about these values are slightly skewed. After all, for most of human history, life was not all about quiet contemplation—it was quite often about hard, backbreaking labor, not about comprehending Kant and Mill—and any suggestion otherwise is a romanticized illusion. While I agree that the internet may not be helping the current situation, I take issue with the notion that it is the cause of all of this.

I will certainly grant that the internet has made skimming texts (sparknoting or Wikipediaing) much more convenient than reading Ulysses in its excruciatingly long entirety. Am I guilty of this? Yes. But I would argue that there was always a segment of the population that was going to be interested in reading Ulysses and there was always going to be a segment of the population that would want nothing to do with it. Is that the internet’s fault? I can hardly think so. But I know that people are still reading, as evidenced by websites like Amazon, which still sells books (even before it sold everything else under the sun, it was a bookstore) and lists like the NYT Bestsellers. And whether it is in actual print or audio format, the discipline that is required to listen to it is the same. It is almost impossible to listen to a book on tape and be surfing the internet at the same time. I have tried it, and I find that I tune the book out. But the same is also true if I am reading a book; I tune the outside distractions out too.

There is something about getting lost in a book that you can never truly lose. Watching young children learn to read is something that is incredible; that realization that the words represent things, ideas, is just the first in a long journey of literary discoveries. And as a pre-internet child, as well as now, I understood what it was like to get lost in a book. But as a child, I understood that for some of my peers, this was not the case. I would come back to school having read half—or more—of the summer book list, even though we only had to read one. My classmates might have struggled to finish that one. So I think that his values of “quiet reflection and contemplation” are interesting ones, but ones that not everyone valued in the first place. Certainly I did value them, and I do still, but I think that it is unfair to blame this apparent loss on the internet.

Carr almost reminds me of Chicken Little, screaming that the sky is falling, when it is only the natural occurrence of rain.

Dave Bryan
#4
Google’s desire to scan every single book and place them all on the internet represents an opportunity for publishing companies to do something vastly different with the “publication” of books. The main issue with transitioning to digital books seems to be a decrease in the profits for publishers. I think that if digital publishing ever gets to the point where it becomes the mainstream form of reading, it will no longer be offered for free. After all, someone has to get paid for writing these digital books and placing them on the internet for readers to access.

But with this digital publishing, authors and publishers would have the opportunity to add new elements to their books that were previously impossible in hardcopy publications. For example, audio soundtracks, animations, author commentary and more advanced illustrations could be included in the digital copy of the book, effectively merging standard books with audio books or even movies. Similar to the bonus material that is available on dvd’s and blu-ray discs, this additional media would enhance the overall experience that the reader gets from the material, it could also prolong the amount of time that readers spend with their books.

As for the survival of hard copy books, I still think there could still be a market for them following the digitization of literature, albeit limited. As we have mentioned in class, people do hold sentiment for books that they can hold, dog-ear, and otherwise destroy. I don’t believe this sentiment will suddenly vanish with the introduction of fully digital books, but hard copy books could definitely become an endangered species. In a time when people are being asked to become more and more environmentally conscious, there could be some foreseeable benefits to decreasing the amount of paper used in publishing books, but traditionalist will definitely still demand the real thing.

Ultimately, the effect of digital literature will depend on how it is implemented. Newspapers and magazines are in trouble right now because they made the mistake of offering nearly all of their content on the internet for free rather than charging a subscription cost for their website. They obviously underestimated the amount of people that would rather simply access their news on the website for free rather than paying for a traditional paper copy. If publishers wish to stay in business, they will need to learn from the mistakes made by periodical companies and make an effort to integrate digital literature with their existing paper copy publication.


Lenise Phillips.

1. I might be biased because I’m part of the generation Carr is criticizing, but I definitely disagree with him. How can the Internet be turning us into simple single-processing units while at the same time transforming our minds into something that needs to be constantly stimulated by something different? It seems to be a contradiction. We’re not single-processing units at all; perhaps what Carr meant to say was that the problem seems to be that we process too much in too short a period of time without absorbing what we’re seeing and reading.

I also don’t think we can play the blame game in this situation; technology is evolving and growing. The fact that our generation may have a shorter attention span does not necessarily have to be seen as a bad thing; we only assume it’s bad because it’s a change that we don’t know what to do with. I may have a shorter attention span than my parents, but I can also adapt more quickly than they can to new environments, new technologies, and new information. I can process things more quickly. The Internet is a resource that I know how to take advantage of, and it allows me to learn about things I may not otherwise have been interested in. And I think it’s a bit of a generalization to assume that technology has predisposed us to move quickly from one item to the next—yes, it’s true that we do tend to move on quickly, but how many times has someone discovered his/her passion because of a site they quickly happened upon on the Internet? Now, I’m not saying this has happened to everyone, but I know that I’ve become really into cooking because of sites I find on the Internet. I don’t stay on them long, but I use the information I glance over to accomplish a time-consuming task that doesn’t really involve a digital technology. I can say the same about my brother, who has learned pretty much everything he knows about fixing up cars from the Internet. He skims the information, but when it comes time to applying what he’s learned, he has a really intense concentration.