Prompt: Does the internet promote a mentality of efficiency and immediacy over deep reading and critical engagement? Using Carr's concepts of "tools of the mind" and "intellectual ethics", how might these giure into the way he wants you to answer that question. Thesis must be original
In the 1970s, when schools began allowing students to use portable calculators, many parents objected. They worried that a reliance on the machines would weaken their children's grasp on the basic mathematic concepts. However as Nicholas Carr states in The Shallows, "The fears, subsequent studies showed, were largely unwarranted" (Carr 192). Their fears were unwarranted because on the contrary to their beliefs, calculators gave students more opportunity to spend less time on routine calculations and focus more on the deeper more abstract principals of math. Despite the fact that parents' worries about calculators were a bit misguided, their worries about the risks of a new technology were certainly in the right place. In the book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr discusses how the internet is changing our brains and ruining our ability to deeply read and critically engage text. Unlike the calculator which stimulates the brain mathematically, the worldwide web retards the aspect of our brains dedicated to deep reading and critical engagement by attempting to take over basic human skills without enforcing dedication to deeper thought.
First of all, to clarify, the internet cannot work like our brains. The essential difference between the two is that basically one is capable of changing on its own while the other is not. As Nicholas Carr puts it, "The brain is not the machine we once thought it to be. Though different regions are associated with different mental functions, the cellular components do not form permanent structures or play rigid roles. They're flexible" (Carr 29). The brain is able adapt with experience, and circumstance when needed. This supports the theory of plasticity which is that our brains are constantly changing in response to our behaviors, reworking their circuitry with each shift of awareness. This was portrayed most effectively in a series of experiments conducted by the biologist Eric Kandel on a type of sea slug called Aplysia (sea creatures made good neurological tests because they tended to have simple nervous systems and large nerve cells). Kandel examined that when you touch a slug's gill, even very lightly, the gill will immediately recoil. However, he noticed that as you touch the gill repeatedly, without causing harm, the recoiling instinct steadily diminishes. Nicholas Carr explains that, "In a slug's ordinary state, about ninety percent of the sensory neurons in its gill have connections to motor neurons. But after its gill is touched just 40 times, only ten percent of the sensory cells maintain links to the motor cells" (28). This experiment showed dramatically how the synapses (the part of our nervous system that receives messages which allow us to process thoughts and memories) are capable of undergoing change. Now let's look at computers and the internet which are manmade. The most adaptation a computer is capable of is if you go to the same website frequently, it might load it up faster. Anything that was not initially programmed into a computer when it was originally manufactured can not be adjusted. If a computer is not programmed to recognize viruses then it won't recognize viruses. It doesn't matter if that same virus attacks the computer 40 times, the computer will not be able to make any adjustments on its own, unless software is downloaded to do so. Thus the computer is incapable of naturally adapting to its environment like an animal brain can.<