Book Review: The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This book was about five times too long.

There’s a thread of irony in there, since so much of the book is spent bitching about how constant internetting fragments our ability to concentrate or think deeply, and damages our creativity by preventing us from making the loose connections borne of getting lost in a good book or, if you’re an irredeemable nerd, academic texts. Luddite Carr rails against our detachment from good, honest Christian booklearnin’ because it’s making us scatterbrained and schitzy.

As demonstrated by this scatterbrained, schizy little thesis on… what, communicatory technology? The narrative, such as it is, leaps around like an overemoting tumbler at a French circus, from the printing press to the newspaper, from telephones to phonographs, and all sort of other shit totally unrelated to what this book is supposed to be about. Eventually he makes his way back to the topic of the internet, in the same way that a caffeinated 8-year-old with ADHD eventually makes his way back to his homework, which is to say he sort of shows up but doesn’t put in what anything you would call effort.

I spared another star for the intermittent blurbs of good science that showed up when discussing neural plasticity, though that was another poorly organized topic, randomly interspersed through the rest of this logorrhea.

Let me save you 280 pages: SomethingAwful was right. The Internet makes you stupid. The more time we spend on the scroll gobbling down Mike ‘n’ Ikes worth of data, the more we train our brains to accept this as status quo, the less able we are to read a tedious book like War and Peace.

Yes, I’m being flip, because this book sucked and I should have stopped reading when I first realized it. That said, I agree with the central premise. Technology is a special kind of prison. Chains can be broken, if you’ve got the strength; but what happens if the function of the chain is to make you weak? It become self-protecting. The more reliant we become on it, the more it saps us. Like anything else, really.

It is better to read books than read blogs. And you’re probably reading this on a blog. Knock it off. Go read a book.

One contemptible Zoomer puke car mentioned 7 or 8 times (presumably because Carr’s chronic doomscrolling dealt enough hippocampal damage that he didn’t remember making the reference) said reading books has become pointless, since you can just find the quotes and information you need with some specific searches. I wanted to knee him in the sternum. The only way you’ll find that information is if you know what information to want. You can’t keep Googling answers to your quizzes forever, you dirty little animal. Never call yourself a philosophy major again. You don’t deserve that worthless and self-effacing title. Switch to marketing or something.

Oh, the other take-home is that Google is Lawful Evil and getting too big for their britches. The end goal is a digital catalog of all information. Hoarding like a dragon. Gotta slay ’em while the getting’s good. Everybody switch to Bing.



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Dresden: So It Goes

December 2, 2017. Dresden, Germany.

FlixBus is a bunch of filthy, mouthbreathing animals. They talk a big game about their bus internet, but once you get onto it, you learn it’s an elaborate German ruse. For some reason, the trap didn’t spring until I got into Germany, but I think FlixBus had been plotting it the entire time I was in Europe, earning my trust by degrees. Toying with me. Then, once I was in for a ten-hour bus ride, the unwashed, skulduggerous, drug addict hyenas that orchestrate these bus routes like some dark and deviant god pulled the plug on the so-called “bus internet”.

Ten hours, I rotted in that cell on wheels! Ten hours I languished in an Amish diesel nightmare, not so much as a scrap of Wi-Fi to be found. I didn’t even have the map downloaded. You want to take a guess how long I tried to download the map?

I’ll find the miserable, hoary, addled son of a bitch who did this to me one day, and I swear before all the saints and angels that I will dance in his blood.

Anyway. Deutschland. Ja, das ist fuckin kalt. It wasn’t nearly as kalt in Budapest, so fool that I was, I thought I’d be fine in just a t-shirt and coat.

I was not.

Fortunately, Dresden is presently devoted wholly to Christmas, and you can’t walk ten meters without hitting a Christmas Market. I’m sure we have these stateside — we do love markets — but never anything like this. It reminded me of the church picnics that would paralyze the townships of my childhood and herd all the adults into parking lots to drink beer and eat pierogies, but pierogies were conspicuously absent.

(I know pierogi is the plural, shut your goddamn mouth)

Instead, there were brats. This would be a running theme throughout the whole of my stay in Germany. No matter where you went or what you did, your only hope for food was some form of wurst. It was usually currywurst, but sometimes, specifically in Christmas Market times, it was bratwurst. And oh, the glühwein! It flowed like… well, like you’d expect.

Tremendous MacBeth cauldrons of the stuff, manned by grinning German men in hokey holiday dress, the whole square stinking of cinnamon and cloves. Glühwein is a Germanic holiday drink, mulled wine everywhere else. You take red wine, you heat it up, you slam-dunk whatever incense your grandma smelled like in there, and then you drink it in the cold. Immediately, you’re warm. It’s a Christmas miracle. Ein Weihnachten Wunder. +30 Frost Resistance, effective immediately.

The other stands sold fried dough covered in sugar, as did every other building everywhere in Europe. They love baked goods so much it’s uncanny. There were also souvenir stands, weird little trinkets with city or religious significance, and a distressing number of puppets.

This is something that isn’t talked about often, but central and eastern Europe are absolutely nuts for marionettes. You can’t get away from them. You’ll want to, believe me. They’re freaky. Freaky and omnipresent and watching you, judging you, with their bulging, painted, sightless eyes. Wooden demon’s eyes.

In typically understated German fashion, there was also Der Goldenerreiter, a dude made of gold riding a horse, also made of gold, in the middle of the town square. His name was Augustus the Subtle.

Strong, sorry. Augustus der Stark.

It was a scenic river overlook of four buildings, churches and municipal dealies with breathtaking architecture that I couldn’t get a picture of because it was dark.

I wound up in a brauhause, hopeful that what I’d heard about German beer was true. Dark news, kids. The weizen is the best you can hope for. See, the Germans, strong traditionalists, have had this grim law in affect since 1516 called the Reinheitsgebot. In English, it’s something along the lines of “The German Beer Purity Law”, and it stated in a tone that brooked no argument that the ONLY ingredients that could be in beer were water, barley, and hops.

Absolutely brutal. Just like that Harry Chapin song about the teacher who won’t let the kid color flowers anything but red.

Don’t worry, they’re not that draconian. They modified the law in 1993(!). From Wikipedia:

“The revised Vorläufiges Biergesetz (Provisional Beer Law) of 1993, which replaced the earlier regulations, is a slightly expanded version of the Reinheitsgebot, stipulating that only water, malted barley, hops and yeast be used for any bottom-fermented beer brewed in Germany.”

What I’m trying to communicate here, friends and neighbors, is that I’m an American boy, born and bred, and I’m used to exciting shit in my beer like frosting and cranberries and whatever else they had lying around the microbrewery. I like stouts! They’re full of chocolate and espresso and smoke. That’s the trifecta, infinitely better than that hyper-bitter quintuple IPA crap everyone pretends to like.

In Germany, what you get is lager. Sometimes the lager tastes more like wheat, sometimes it tastes a little darker and heavier, but at the end of the day, it’s nationalist PBR and I’m not out here for it. Still, when in Rome, gladiate, and when in Germany, drink beer until it’s not cold anymore.

Unfortunately, it was cold. Forevermore. I tried to do the sightseeing thing the following day, but everything was way too far from everything and I could feel my bone marrow freezing. Less than ideal tourist conditions. I eventually found a restaurant that would let me steal WiFi, and I ordered what appeared to be a giant bowl of cheese.

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The menu assured me it was a traditional Dresden dish. It was sort of like a French onion soup thing, only instead of French, German, and instead of onion, pork. But it was warm, and calorically dense, and you best believe I inhaled it.

I was on the first bus to Berlin the next morning. Dresden was nice, but even the locals I knew warned me that it was not, perhaps, the ideal portrait of Germany. “The most racist city in Germany” was how it was described to me, due to the massive refugee population. The refugees themselves seemed nice; they were piss drunk in the streets, blasting reggae and dancing as though it weren’t 4 degrees out. More power to them.

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Be A Bandit, my hostel insisted on the morning of my departure. Well, I do try.

Love,

The Bastard