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Missive #103

“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

This was an interesting book. However, it told me far more about neuroscience than I wanted to know. If you can sort of skip over that, unless it does interest you, then I think you could like it also. Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind”—from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer—Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.

Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic—a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption—and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.

Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes—Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive—even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.
The Net commands our attention with far greater insistency than our television or radio or morning newspaper ever did.

I had another talk with my neighbor that is in the space across the ‘street’ behind me. I said before that he was with the Forest Service but found out that he is with them for only a year. He was retired but the Forest Service wanted him to work out of here for a year. He is an arson investigator [Wildland Fire Investigator].
He also told me that there were now eleven fires burning in the area but only the seven that I found on the map were large enough to merit showing there. I asked him about the Expeditors Fire Support vehicles that were here in the Park for a few days and he said that they had set up two “fire base camps’ for the fire fighting crews that were working those active fires. They have now left and broke down one of the camps because some of the crews were being moved.

Yesterday was not a good day. I went to Eagar, AZ for a dental appointment which turned out to not happen because they said they did not have my xrays. They were sent in April then sent again in July and I received an email from the office in Eagar that said the had now received them. However, yesterday they said that they did not have the ‘full mouth xrays’. This was after I had filled out all the New Patient paperwork because it has been more than 3 years since I was in the office. I walked out.

This happened after I had a green corn tamale with eggs breakfast at the Trail Riders Restaurant. The first time on over three years. Almost worth the drive just for that – but not quite. When I started Desperado up after finishing my breakfast it backfired and then was running on 9 cylinders versus all 10. Sounded terrible.

Drove up the street to Safeway in Springerville and picked up some groceries. Then back to Eagar to a barbershop which has now become a coffee shop. A couple blocks from there was Maria’s Beauty Salon which was happy to cut my hair.

Then drove Desperado back to Reserve with her sounding terrible and had some difficulty climbing the grades but she made it. Went to the Post office and picked up a package . Then a block away pulled into Catron Garage and spent the afternoon there while they replaced the ignition coil on one of the spark plugs. Desperado needs a tune up, and all new ignition coils plus plugs. I have been putting that off but need to get that done within this next year. Also need to find some more reliable dental offices.

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