The Shallows: Prologue and Chapter One

And let’s start with this!

  And this! Fpattern 5MbThe new media are not bridges between man and nature – they are nature…The new media are not ways of relating us to the old world; they are the real world and they reshape what remains of the old world at will. – Marshall McLuhan



“We are approaching the “technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society”


This is Marshal Mcluhan; He is dead.





The debate summarized and explained by our friend, Nicolas Carr

The importance of the text.

Watch the video of Norman Mailer arguing with Marshal McLuhan
Transcript of the video

Marshall McLuhan: talking about the medium is the message.




The long cultural shadow of 2001: A Space Odyssey
On The Simpsons

Family Guy 

General cartoon appropriations of the film

The Space Odyssey explained

Roger Ebert’s (film critic) thoughts

Connections to other Sci-fi films 

TIFF recently hosted a retrospective of Kubrick’s films and art inspired by them

How much of Kubrick’s vision was scientifically accurate? (Engineering and Technology Magazine)

Internet Resource Archive on 2001

Articles/essays on Google Scholar




When computers say stuff with feelings (Scholarly article)

But, really, how is the internet affecting us?

How the Internet is changing the way we think

Are you really the dumbest generation? And how do you feel about that?

Author of  Interview


Screen vs paper–the differences in comprehension and recall

FpatternF pattern of internet reading

WHY READING is good for you

Reading on screen vs reading on paper, Excellent article on the history of reading, how to understand how reading on screen is different.
• Educational clip about the history of printing and reading
• Gutenberg then vs Gutenberg now: Project Gutenberg

Your Outboard Brain Knows All, Clive Thompson.

And…sigh…yet another indication that the internet/smart phones are rewiring our brains: Phantom Phone Vibrations.


The article that started it all: Is Google Making Us Stupid.–where it started

Counter opinions

Is Google Making Us Stupid? Nope!, Philip Davis

And, another anti-Carr response to the question about Google and our collective stupidity.

Nicholas Carr’s
book site | blog

How Google is Changing Your Information-Seeking Behavior, Lab Soft News Blog.

And, if you’re going to use Google, learn to really use it.


On The Media
Reply All
Internet History Podcast
Manners for the Digital Age

You are Not a Gadget and Who Owns The Future by Jaron Lanier
Alone Together

I Hate The Internet | In the Guardian | In the New York Times

The Circle (Dave Eggars)

AFK: The Pirate Bay

Aaron Schwartz: The Internet’s Own Boy

Google and The World Brain

Web Junkie

And, of course, BLACK MIRROR! on Netflix.



Search, Memory…

Chapter Nine: Search, Memory

To open, here is video by Crashcourse. It offers an excellent explanation behind the workings of our brain in the creation of explicit and implicit memories.
Explicit memories are memories which we can consciously recall. Working memory depends largely on the use of explicit memories; for example remembering what is in your fridge so you can decide what to have for dinner, or a fun memory with friends.
Implicit memories are memories which contribute to our ability to perform a task without consciously drawing back to the experience we learned to do it from. For example, reading – many can read but do not recall the time we learned how to do it.


Short term memories can only exist for a very short period of time; it depends on whether or not the synapses in the brain between neurons are strengthened or weakened. In order for them to be turned into long term memories our brains must go through a very specific project called consolidation. The consolidation is a complex anatomical and biochemical process which strengthens memories, making them long term so they can be recalled later. Distractions; from a something large to even the vibration of a phone can entirely disrupt the consolidation process. Sleep is also very beneficial for consolidation, alongside concentration. This is why, if we stay up late studying before a test and only get three hours sleep, our memory is very poor when it is the time to actually write the test.

“The take-home message from a working memory capacity standpoint is this:what we process, we learn. If we’re not processing life, we’re not living it. Live life” – Peter Doolittle

Artificial vs Biological Memory
Biological memory is the memories which are created from our own human experience. Our brain decides on what information to keep, and which information to discard; which constructs the framework that in the basis of our personality.
Artificial memory is the human dependency on resources outside of the brain in order to remember specific things. Some of these things such as books and calculators are extremely helpful in brain development as the help strengthen consolidation. Carr argues that the internet is a source that does not help with our memory- how so?

annCarr uses the example of Commonplace books in the chapter as one of the first instances in which artificial manifested. Commonplace books were held by students to document meaningful quotes they found or any connections they made which felt valuable to remember in their studies. For further reading, Ann Moss in her book Printed
Commonplace-books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (1999) discusses the role of these books in organizing and analyzing quotes from the studies of renaissance pupils.




Some Questions to ponder:
1. Do you value memorization? What is the place or role of memorization today?
2. Have you ever confronted a problem/challenge that you felt as though you could not solve because of your inability to concentrate? How can we as artists relate to Carr’s struggle to write a book?
3. Carr asks: “How is the way we think changing?”… How is it?
4. What difficulties have you experienced with internet so far?

The Shallows Ch 6 – The Very Image of a Book

Evolution of e-readers

The introduction of the e-book reader gave us another medium format option for reading books. The first handheld e-book was the Rocket…Check out some of the early devices:

Concerns with Digital reading

The very things that are supposed to enhance our reading experience, like having links embedded in the text, internet connectivity, the ability to search for definitions, also make it very difficult for a person to get immersed in their book (like the deep reading issue we talked about before). These dynamic “enhancements” act more like interruptions for the reader because there are so many different things embedded within the medium to distract the user and shorten their attention spans.

This allows the reader to quickly dip in and out of the book they may be reading; read a quick few pages on the bus or while waiting in a line. But how much are we really retaining when we do this? There is a lot of debate around this answer. Many studies say that we read slower and less accurately from a screen whereas others believe that there are too many factors involved to choose sides.

Changing the Way We Read and Write

Something to think about: our e-readers are even tracking how we read our books: how many pages we read in one sitting, what words we highlight, the total hours to complete a book, etc. Publishing companies want this information in order to tailor the way books are written in order to do things like fine-tune manuscripts to reflect tastes based on the data.

Wall Street Journal Reporter Alexandra Alter talks about how this data shapes the way books are written, click here for the full audio clip   

Vooks and Interactive E-Books

Vooks: these are more than just e-books, they also have embedded video and links within them. Mimicking the style of the internet. Check it out below:

Interactive e-books are another example of the direction that the ebook is taking:

This format is much more interactive and takes advantage of the many gestures available on the ipad. Software developer, Mike Matas, explains his next generation of e-books:

What’s a Cell Phone Novel

Cell phone novels are actually books that use cell phones to write stories and are intended to be read on the same device. Writers upload texts to create short stories and readers can post comments and feedback directly to the author based on what they’ve read.

Here is a video describing what cell phone novels are:


“Greatest skill is discovering meaning among contexts that are continually in flux” 
– Mark Federman

but is it really?

This video, “How Multitasking Damages Your Brain” by SimplePickup2 demonstrates how multi-tasking is not effective.

The Moment App – Bored & Brilliant

Did you guys check this app out? For those of you that didnt, the app is something that tracks how many times you pick up your phone as well as the total screen time. Bored & Brilliant is a podcast with challenges to have you put down your phone and get creative!

Bored & brilliant challenges:

  • Keep your phone in your pocket
  • see the world through your eyes (not your phone camera)
  • Delete that app
  • Take a “fauxcation”
  • Make small observations you would have otherwise missed
  • Dream house



Chapter 4 – a little more on “The Deepening Page” & a digression

The Reading Brain

More about the reading brain, how to keep and improve your reading skills online and an interview with the “accomplished reader” Maryanne Wolf.

The Audion

audion-cover-pageThe “Father of Radio” – Lee deForest’s 1952 article Dawn of the Electronic Age (Jan, 1952) in full in Popular Mechanics with images of an atom smasher,  a 1929 TV camera and an electric selective-sequence calculator!




Food for Thoughts
“It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.” – Edward Tenner

Watch the TED talk of historian and tech writer Edward Tenner discussing the unintended consequences of new inventions and their impact(s) on the world.

The Shallows, Chapter 2- The Vital Paths (and a digression)

Some Ethical Implications of the Malleable Mind

What is neuroplasticity? Chapter 2 is largely devoted to explaining two conceptions of the mind- one of fixed rigidity, and one of malleability. Carr gives us insight into the nature of the human mind that has profound (and at times kind of scary) implications…

Neuroplasticity: Ability of the brain to modify its own structure and function following changes within the body or external environment 

So in other words: your actions and your thoughts create habits by changing the structure of your brain. 

In the digression, Carr brings up the idea that because we don’t have any physical perception of our brains existing, it’s hard to believe that they suffer consequences. The brain seems to be this ethereal thing that exists beyond our control, and we want to believe that’s the truth. But what plasticity means for us is that we have far more accountability for our brains than we think, because we choose our actions, and, to some degree, what we think about, and that affects our wiring. We actually have a degree of control over our thought patterns and feelings. But we typically conceive of these things as beyond our control. Think about it for a second- have you ever been in a difficult situation where you have expressed the sentiment “I can’t help how I feel?” or “That’s just what I believe?”

Neuroplasticity appears to challenge that. Because to some degree, it implies that you can change how you think.

Neuroplasticity is challenging because it has implications for responsibility. We have social obligations to control our behavior, for both our own good and the good of those around us. We’re used the idea that we need to control our actions. But thoughts and reflexes, associations and habits, ultimately control our actions- and we can shape our thoughts and reflexes. So do we have a responsibility to conscientiously engineer how we think? Carr seems to be suggesting that we have to take responsibility for our own minds, if we want to preserve skills and ways of thinking that are replaced by digital adaptation. But what about our duties to others? What can neuroplasticity teach us about social responsibility? 

“I’m Not Racist, But…” 


You can actually take an association test to see how prejudiced you are.
(Try it! And yes, you probably are a little bit horrible, deep down. Everyone is.)

Would you be surprised to learn that you unconsciously favor one gender or racial group over another? People don’t like to take responsibility for that kind of thinking. They don’t want to admit that they believe detrimental things. When asked whether or not they are racist, sexist or otherwise prejudiced, many take the option to reply otherwise, that they don’t feel that way. Yet when placed in a situation like “who am I afraid of on the sidewalk at night”, your unconscious mind thinks otherwise.

Unconscious bias is a bit like McLuhan’s “watchdog” scenario. Media sneak changes into your brain that you don’t notice. Society sneaks prejudices into your brain that you don’t notice.


Is there evidence of plasticity and learned behaviors in this talk? “That’s my default” (~5:00) sounds a bit like neurological “paths of least resistance” (Carr, pp. 35). According to Vernā, bias is something we’ve been invisibly trained to think. We learn biases and embed them by repeating them over and over again. Sounds like brain circuits that “…want to keep exercising…”  (Carr, pp. 34)

Unlike ideological racism, behavior driven by conditioned racism is not necessarily based on conscious beliefs about supposed racial differences. While factors such as skin tone or culture or accent can act as ‘triggers’ for conditioned racism, it is largely our brains’ automated response to anything and anyone perceived as a possible threat or enemy. And our society has insidious ways of teaching us that some people are dangerous, when they are not. 

Unintended Consequences 

You can discuss neuroplasticity and ethics in a different direction. Unconscious bias is somewhat related to the idea that our societal structure, thoughts and actions can have unintended consequences. In racial bias, our own plastic minds are trained to have unintended, undesired prejudices. Our impressionability makes our brains vulnerable. It would seem true of any detrimental thought pattern. 

So our brains are not always predictable. (See the Greenburg quote on pg. 34 of the Shallows.) But what about computers? We’ve been talking about how digital technology shapes us- but how do we shape digital technology? Norman Doidge points out that biological and digital networks are very similar: 

“Electronic media are so effective at altering the nervous system because they both work in similar ways and are basically compatible and thus easily linked. Both involve the instantaneous transmission of electric signals to make linkages. Because our nervous system is plastic, it can take advantage of this compatibility and merge with the electronic media, making a single, larger system. Indeed, it is the nature of such systems to merge whether they are biological or man-made.” – Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself, pp. 311

And keep in mind Carr’s point as well:

“Monkeys, for instance, were taught how to use rakes and pliers to take hold of pieces of food that would otherwise have been out of reach….the rakes and pliers actually came to be incorporated into the brain maps of the animals’ hands. The tools, so far as the animals’ brains were concerned, had become part of their bodies.” – Carr, The Shallows, pp. 32

Some further examples of brain/tool integration:

Circuits in your skin

Hacking into your brain???

You’d have to really love your smartphone…

(A documentary about ‘the singularity’- the fusion of humans with machines. For a particularly interesting example, go to 56:30.)

And of course, more wisdom from McLuhan:

“His first law of media is that all the media are extensions of aspects of man….the computer extends the processing capacities of our central nervous system. He argued that the process of extending our nervous system also alters it.” -Doige, on McLuhan. The Brain that Changes Itself, pp.310

“Now man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull, and his nerves outside his skin….Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace….” McLuhan, quoted in Doige, The Brain that Changes Itself, pp. 311

So the question is, if we can develop intimate relationships with digital systems, based on feedback, can our plasticity manifest in a digital system as well? Carr explains how the brain was once thought to be rigid, fixed, and with each component serving a predictable function, and that computers are generally conceived of the same way. But then, the machine metaphor is broken down for the brain, thanks to the discovery of plasticity- it’s organic and adaptive, and reacts to its environment in ways we do not expect. So could that understanding be incorrect for a computer too?


Essentially what this guy is saying is that we have written code we can no longer control, with effects we cannot predict. And that code is changing its environment to facilitate itself. The technology is a positive feedback loop, just like the “vital paths”. Perhaps we have designed something that is more like ourselves than we realize. We should be responsible for how our technologies behaveBecause they ultimately come back to shape us. 

Can you think of any situations where your use of digital technology has changed how it behaved? Has your usage had unintended consequences? 

In Conclusion…

Both of these discussions show the changing nature of our mind; your actions have unintended consequences on how you think, and how you think has unintended consequences on your actions. Those consequences are unintended because we aren’t used to the idea of shaping our brains to perform to what we think we believe. We don’t think about the psychological consequences for what we do, feel or experience. We’re not used to paying attention. 

And we probably should, because as racial bias and thieving algorithms show us, not all unintended consequences are harmless. As Pascual-Leone says, “…plastic changes may not necessarily represent a behavioral gain for a given subject.” (Carr, pp.34)

We become so addicted to our devices, unknowingly. Just like we become programmed to fear. Our hearts race a when we see the police, and our palms may sweat when we walk down a dark alley with someone of a different racial group. The plasticity that is embedded in us not only changes the way we view the people around us, but also the technologies we have created and unknowingly become so accustomed to. And can’t live without.

So if you recognize a bad thought pattern, how to go about changing it? How do you take advantage of your plasticity to shape your mind for the better?
Have you ever deliberately tried to change how you think? Undo a reflex? Eliminate a bias?  Quell an irrational fear? 

Vernā has a few strategies in her TED talk, linked earlier.

And so does Jiro.


It’s like Carr says:

“That doesn’t mean that we can’t, with concerted effort, once again redirect our neural signals and rebuild the skills we’ve lost.” (pp.35)

Building neural structures takes work. You can’t unseat a bias in a day. You can’t become a master sushi maker in a day. Changing a “vital path”can be a fairly simple exercise, (see pg. 30 of The Shallows, regarding stroke recovery) but all three of these people iterate that it takes discipline and patience. After all “Plastic does not mean elastic…” (The Shallows, pp.34)


So we leave you with a challenge: identify a thought pattern, an association, a bias- anything that’s been trained into your mind- and see if you can change it. Seek new experience. Imagine what it would be like to feel differently in a given situation. Fire new neurons together. Do it for the rest of the semester and work at it and see what happens. Try engineering your mind.

And the sooner the better, because plasticity doesn’t last uncompromised:

“As we age and plasticity declines, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to change in response to the world, even if we want to. We find familiar types of stimulation pleasurable; we seek out like-minded individuals to associate with, and research shows we tend to ignore or forget, or attempt to discredit, information that does not match our beliefs, or perception of the world, because it is very distressing and difficult to think and perceive in unfamiliar ways. Increasingly, the aging individual acts to preserve the structures within, and when there is a mismatch between his internal neurocognitive structures and the world, he seeks to change the world. In small ways he begins to micromanage his environment, to control it and make it familiar. But this process, writ large, often leads whole cultural groups to try to impose their view of the world on other cultures….” -Doige, The Brain that Changes Itself, on the work of Bruce Wexler (pp. 304-305). 

So can you set yourself on a trajectory of thought you might get stuck in? Yikes. If intolerance and colonialism are the product of an inability to neurologically adapt to other people, then teach yourself tolerance, full speed ahead!

Take advantage of your flexible mind. And if you can, bend it into positions that cause more good than harm to those around you, and yourself.


 (Did any of you have this poster in a classroom in elementary school? That’s neuroplasticity. Pay attention to your brain.) 

The Shallows Chapter 10 Supplementary Content


The ELIZA program, try out a conversation with it and see how it works!

From The Shallows:

 “[…] what shocked [Weizenbaum] was how quickly and deeply people using the software ‘become emotionally involved with the computer,’ talking to it as if it were an actual person.” (p.204-205)

This is known as the ELIZA Effect:

“[U]sers perceive computer systems as having “intrinsic qualities and abilities which the software controlling the (output) cannot possibly achieve”

From The Shallows:

[…] when people aren’t being bombarded by external stimuli, their brains can, in effect, relax. They no longer have to tax their working memories by processing a stream of bottom-up distractions.

This study, “Individual differences in employee reactions to open-plan offices” partially confirmed that performance is reduced for employees with complex tasks and distractions, in open offices. Do you think this will change how you consider your own workspace after graduating?


The above image demonstrates the game used in Van Nimwegen’s study “The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective”. The top game image indicated whether an action was possible by greying out buttons, while the lower game image gave no indication to whether an action was possible or not.

The puzzle involved transferring colored balls between two boxes, and followed the rules of the river crossing problem: “Missionaries and cannibals problem”

What does the Oculus Rift do to your brain? An interesting video to see what kind of effect virtual reality has on your brain!

From The Shallows:

“There is no Sleepy Hollow on the Internet, no peaceful spot where contemplative ness can work it’s restorative magic.” (p.220)

Sleepy Hollow refers to the place in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” where the community is haunted by ghost and the Headless Horseman.

Full text:

Nicholas Carr’s Website:

You can share your thoughts about “The Shallows” and how it has changed your idea or usage on the internet. In the afterwards of the paperback edition the author has already received:

“[…] large number of notes that come from young people – high schoolers, college kids, twentysomethings.” (p.226)

So don’t refrain from writing to him!

Nicholas Carr’s Blog:

Follow Rough Type on Twitter: @roughtype

The Shallows, Reading Two

Most of this post was assembled by three awesome students from last year. Thanks people!


Anybody else wonder what a theodolite is?
Here’s a definition. (Also, there’s an app for that.)


Epic Poetry

Regarding the techniques used in an oral culture to remember information:

“Modern scholars recognize certain features common to oral poetry that often seem strange to readers. The key to all these so-called formulas is repetition, that indispensable prod to memory. In the Homeric epics, for example, long verse paragraphs recounting the details of sacrifice, the proffering of gifts, the naming of participants may be repeated almost word for word. Descriptive epithets repeatedly accompany characters’ names: “the swift-footed brilliant Akhilleus” or “Hektor, breaker of horses” or “the grey-eyed goddess Athena… these repetitions gave the bard a second to remember his place in the narrative… These oral formulaic devices, then, glued a massive narrative together, permitting feats of memory which readers in the computer age are more likely to associate with data banks than with poets.”

Read more about classical poetry here! It’s fun!



Turn the pages of a Gutenberg Bible.

An interactive map showing the spread of printing.

We’re all familiar with Project Gutenberg, but this automated bartending project by the same name is based on booze.


Technological Determinism (aka the most terrifying thing ever)

A more recent expression of McLuhan’s view:

“While it depends on us, we are increasingly dependent on it. Like any child, it has its demands. So far, humanity as a whole is in denial that it even has a child.”


Not unlike the Cylons? Any Battlestar fans in the class?

Ever heard of the Technological Singularity?



Lee de Forest has a website. Here, learn more about the audion.



More on London cabbies and their hippocampuses.

A summary of a study on illiterate ex-paramilitary forces comparing the brain structure of illiterate and literate adults and how it changes as they learn how to read.
Why not just study children learning to read? The article says it’s hard to distinguish the changes that come about from reading from the changes that occur due to normal development.

Does literacy steal brain power from other functions? According to this study, probably. 

More info on magical mirror neurons and reading.

Are texting, emailing and other forms of purely verbal communication decreasing our ability to read non-verbal cues? This article says so.


Additional Reading: Chapters 3, and 4

Let’s think about mapping and Facebook and the lost art of free time.
I’ve posted the following short articles/op-ed pieces which are relevant to the assigned reading. These are required, and are in lieu of longer questions on Chapters 3 and 4.

1. Facebook is Using You.

2. The Death of the Cyberflaneur

3. The Lost Art of Free time

4. Is GPS All in Our Heads?

5. Shop carefully.