Carr opens The Shallows with his personal reason for writing the book. In 2007, after a decade of using the Web and believing it a great boon for his intelligence, Carr had an epiphany: the benefits of the Internet may come at a price. Carr found he could no longer focus like he used to on long pieces of writing. After doing some research, Carr found that his situation was not unique. Bloggers Scott Karp, Bruce Friedman, and Philip Davis all agreed that the Internet had made them less patient readers. Still, they preferred the rapid-fire way of absorbing information encouraged by the Internet. Carr became worried that the linear, literary mind was becoming a thing of the past.
Carr uses personal experience to connect with the reader and illustrate how deeply the Internet has affected him personally. Using his own life as an example gets readers to examine whether or not they are having difficulty concentrating themselves. By introducing the idea that there are two camps––those who are pro rapid-fire learning and those who are skeptical––Carr sets readers up to examine themselves throughout the book and choose a side.
Carr’s life unfolded in a way particularly suited to studying the effects of the Internet. The first half of his life, which he calls “Analogue Youth,” was without computer technology. The second half, which he calls “Digital Adulthood,” was with computer technology. In 1977, when Carr started school at Dartmouth, this watershed transition could be seen on the school’s campus. Dartmouth had a traditional library, but there was also a place called the Kiewit Computation Center. The Kiewit center, which housed an early computer, was not very popular––Carr spent far more time in the library reading room—but occasionally he would spend an hour or two playing a primitive game on the Center’s computer.
Carr again shows how his own life can be seen as an experiment in the effects of the Internet, with himself as the guinea pig. The era he was born in caused him to live half his life before the digital age, and half of it after. Returning us to an age when libraries were used more than computers causes the reader to assess how deeply things have changed, and in a much shorter amount of time than we often remember.
Several years after he left Dartmouth, Carr became smitten with computers. He bought one of the earliest Macintoshes in 1986, starting a pattern of endless purchases to update his hardware as the technology skyrocketed. The year 1990 marked the biggest change, because until then his computers had been self-contained. With the introduction of the Web and Web 2.0, Carr soon became a Net junkie. He developed into a religious follower of his RSS feed, his MySpace, his Facebook, his Twitter, and so forth. In 2007, Carr concluded that the Internet was having a far greater impact on him than the simple, self-contained, disconnected computers ever had, and he set out to figure out why.
Carr continues his personal story to after the “jump” to the digital age, when the Internet became ubiquitous. He emphasizes his total reliance on the Internet to explain how he had rational cause to believe that this singular change––the centralization of Net-connected computers in his life––was the cause of his brain fog and lack of concentration.