The Shallows


Nicholas Carr

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The History of Technology 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.
The History of Technology Theme Icon

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 of human abilities. Just as the plow amplifies human strength and the microscope amplifies eyesight, computers amplify thinking. Carr terms this latter category of tools, the ones we use to extend mental powers, “intellectual technologies.” Examples include the map, the clock, the abacus, the alphabet, the book and––of course––the Internet.

Putting the Internet in a historical context allows Carr to extrapolate meaning from the past. When the first ancient Sumerians scratched a character in the dirt they didn’t realize they were altering the course of humanity. Carr’s point is that the Internet, humanity’s most all-consuming tool by far, should be analyzed with the same far-reaching gravity.

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The History of Technology ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Shallows related to the theme of The History of Technology.
Chapter 3 Quotes

Although the use of any kind of tool can influence our thoughts and perspectives––the plow changed the outlook of the farmer, the microscope opened new worlds of mental exploration for the scientist––it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think.

Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes our tools do what we tell them to do. Other times, we adapt ourselves to our tools’ requirements.

Page Number: 47
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The written word liberated knowledge from the bounds of individual memory and freed language from the rhythmical and formulaic structures required to support memorization and recitation. It opened to the mind broad new frontiers of thought and expression.

Page Number: 57
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Chapter 4 Quotes

The words in books didn’t just strengthen people’s ability to think abstractly; they enriched people’s experience of the physical world, the world outside the book.

Page Number: 75
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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

[The book] loses what the late John Updike called its “edges” and dissolves into the vast, roiling waters of the Net. The linearity of the printed book is shattered, along with the calm attentiveness it encourages in the reader.

Page Number: 104
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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
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

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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Chapter 10 Quotes

When we extend some part of ourselves artificially, we also distance ourselves from the amplified part and its natural functions.

Related Characters: Marshall McLuhan
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis: