The Shallows


Nicholas Carr

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Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance Theme Analysis

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.
Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance  Theme Icon

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, has spiraled out of control, with unintended results.

With computational speed no longer an impediment, the Internet has become a mechanism for the rapid-fire delivery of bite-sized content. The computer can now digitize, “slice and dice,” and update information at an unthinkable pace. Modern day devices are updated in near real-time with increasingly user-friendly interfaces, search engines like Google strive with religious zeal to catalogue the entirety of human information, and citizens of all ages check their social media feeds many times per minute. No longer hindered by computational speed limits, technology originally designed to make our lives easier—and thus free up our time––now preoccupies every waking moment.

Further, Carr argues, the majority of Net users are trapped by the Internet’s culture of relevance. The Internet now measures efficiency by content “freshness,” instilling in both publishers and users a preoccupation with staying up-to-date. The winning news feed or social media platform will be the one that delivers notifications that much faster. Carr points to a feedback loop between web publisher and user. We are sharing more, clicking more, and getting notified more because the websites and apps are increasingly effortless to use. At the same time, the resulting flood of instantaneous information forces users to stay constantly aware – to constantly scan their digital horizons – or else they will end up less up-to-date and knowledgeable than the people around them. Put another way, websites and apps can use the social pressure to stay relevant to keep their users constantly engaged – a vicious circle of constant distraction that is to the website and app’s own benefit, but leads to constant distraction and anxiety for the user. Carr therefore urges us to re-evaluate the true efficiency of tools and programs that claim to provide efficiency, but which do so not to make our lives easier but rather to survive in the brutally competitive arena of the net.

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Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance appears in each chapter of The Shallows. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance Quotes in The Shallows

Below you will find the important quotes in The Shallows related to the theme of Efficiency, Speed, and Relevance .
Chapter 1 Quotes

Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.

Page Number: 6
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Chapter 5 Quotes

The way the Web has progressed as a medium replays, with the velocity of a time-lapse film, the entire history of modern media.

Related Characters: Alan Turing
Page Number: 83
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We don’t see the forest when we search the Web. We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.

Page Number: 91
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Chapter 6 Quotes

In arguing that books are archaic and dispensable, Federman and Shirky provide the intellectual cover that allows thoughtful people to slip into the permanent state of distractedness that defines online life.

Page Number: 112
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In the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us. We have cast our lot with the juggler.

Page Number: 114
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Chapter 7 Quotes

As the psychotherapist Michael Hausauer notes, teens and other young adults have a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible.

Page Number: 118
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When it comes to the firing of our neurons, it’s a mistake to assume that more is better.

Page Number: 123
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What we are experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.

Page Number: 138
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The Net is making us smarter…only if we define intelligence by the Net’s own standards.

Page Number: 141
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Chapter 8 Quotes

Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention––and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible.

Page Number: 157
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The irony in Google’s effort to bring greater efficiency to reading is that it undermines the very different kind of efficiency that the technology of the book brought to reading––and to our minds––in the first place.

Page Number: 166
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Chapter 9 Quotes

The Web’s connections are not our connections––and no matter how many hours we spend searching and surfing, they will never become our connections. When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.

Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis: