The prologue to The Shallows, titled “The Watchdog and the Thief,” quotes Marshall McLuhan’s iconic statement: “The medium is the message.” Far before the invention of the Web, McLuhan warned the public that our preoccupation with mediated content hindered our ability to analyze the effects of the medium itself. The Internet, for Carr, is the newest example of this problem. Many staunchly believe that technological devices are neutral tools with no deeper effects, but Carr uses McLuhan to compare the “masses” to sleepwalkers. The medium’s content, writes McLuhan, is “the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” And even McLuhan, Carr writes, could never have foreseen the veritable feast of distracting content provided by our digital medias today.
Opening his book with famous media critic Marshall McLuhan is Carr’s way of hinting that the The Shallows holds a similar place in the history of tech criticism. The comparison sets the reader up to see how Carr will complicate and update McLuhan’s argument. Carr’s reference to McLuhan’s quote also sets a foundational question for the book––how is the medium of the Internet a “juicy piece of meat” and what exactly is it distracting us from?