The Shallows


Nicholas Carr

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Themes and Colors
The History of Technology Theme Icon
Distraction and Focus Theme Icon
Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance  Theme Icon
Value, Depth, and Intelligence  Theme Icon
Scientific Context Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Shallows, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The History of Technology

Carr’s argument in The Shallows––that the Internet and computer technology are changing our brains––relies heavily on historical context. In order to show how the technology of the current digital age affects thinking, Carr explores how previous technologies formerly shaped the human mind. Put another way, he argues that the Internet is just the most recent development in humanity’s relationship with skill-enhancing tools.

All technology exists, in Carr’s view, to extend and amplify pre-existing sets…

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Distraction and Focus

Carr decided to write The Shallows after becoming concerned about his own capacity to focus. A decade earlier, before he started to use the Internet daily, Carr had no problem staying put with a long novel or concentrating on a singular task. Recently, though, he found himself constantly distracted by a compulsion to check his email or his RSS or his Twitter feed. Carr maintains that his own case is symptomatic of a global, Internet-induced…

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Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance

A pervasive element of The Shallows is the role of efficiency in shaping and guiding the development of technology. To some extent all technologies––“intellectual” and otherwise––came into being because we wanted to make our lives easier, and thus more efficient. Primitive man’s use of tools stemmed from an innate desire to ease the work expended by the user and relocate effort onto the tool used. However, modern striving for efficiency in computer development, Carr warns…

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Value, Depth, and Intelligence

One of the book’s primary concerns is whether new technologies are making us more intelligent. While almost every expert and scholar agrees that the Internet has changed the way we interact with the world, there is large disagreement about whether or not this change is actually making us smarter. While the Internet has many mental and social benefits––connectivity, accessibility––Carr warns that we are at risk for a bad trade. Diehard defenders of the Internet, in…

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Scientific Context

Scientific context is the necessary foundation for the hypothesis embedded in the book’s subtitle, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. Carr cites studies involving everything from monkeys to sea slugs. He quotes scientific experts and breaks down complex neuroscience for the layman. Giving the reader a scientific understanding of brain concepts like neuroplasticity––or the brain’s ability to change––is vital to convincing the reader that repeated use of the Internet can have lasting…

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