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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Book Review: Industrial Society and Its Future

Industrial Society and Its FutureIndustrial Society and Its Future by Theodore J. Kaczynski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing Teddy hates more than civilization is the god damn liberals.

His rhetoric is by now archetypal of shrub-crouching anarchoprimitivists, and relies on the same general arguments appealing to nature and drawing attention to the absolute state of the place, and humanity’s psychological and “moral” decay since we really doubled down on agriculture.

Society, as we know it and jocker .gif live in it, was a mistake because it runs so contrary to what evolution programmed us for. We did just fine for two million years living in accord with the land, “in the hands of the gods” as Daniel Quinn succinctly put it, until about 10,000 years ago when we decided to start watchdogging plots of dirt that grew calorically dense but nutritionally vacant grasses that, truth told, we don’t digest so good. Finally given a reason to go to war, we started going to war. Progress marched on, technology continued to advance, and with every new jump it brought with it the promise of a better, more fulfilling, and easier life that ultimately culminated in actual slavery (before giving way to the modern, wage kind), war, murder, rape, animal abuse, all of it. Name a bad thing and you can eventually trace it back to the technological advances that brought us out of the shrub.

Most of these green and black philosophers make vague allusions to how bad farming was, usually connecting it to being cast out from Eden (whether they mean to or not), and drop hints that something must be done, nudge nudge wink wink. Teddy makes his suggested solutions pretty obvious by, as Epictetus advised, embodying his philosophy. He also takes things a step further by suggesting all technology starts as a key and becomes its own lock. Every new bit of tech that guarantees simplification of life leads to greater reliance on that tech, and its providers, ultimately adding another layer of dependency, which takes its psychological toll.

The main thrust of Teddy’s argument is that man has an ingrained psychological need to be free, like every other animal, and wandering around the savanna scrounging out each day’s existence provided more freedom than does farming, sitting in a cubicle, or being a mathematics professor. The further we get from this freedom, the more we lean on the allowances and permissions granted us by the “masters”, the keyholder technocrats, the more miserable and neurotic we become.

Teddy believes the system benefits no one but the system, which is why we’re feeding children drugs to make them sit still in school, throughout the years where every comparable animal would be running, playing, and exploring, so they can grow up to become automatons of appropriate malleability. Obviously, no creature can distance itself from its nature so completely, so maintaining the status quo into adulthood many require further prescriptions, recreational chemicals like smonk and drink, and that good good Netflix, to maximize docility.

He suggests the power process (a psych term he seems to have invented for this manifesto) denied by modern life is sublimated into hobbies and work, so people pursue things like an academic career, collecting Magic the Gathering cards, or maximizing their body count (in either sex or homicide), providing them a sense of purpose that would otherwise be met with daily Darwinian attempts at survival and reproduction.

He also smashes libs unceremoniously and remorselessly. Here are a few occasions on which the lib status was adjusted to destroyed:

Those who are most sensitive about “politically incorrect” terminology are not the average black ghetto-dweller, Asian immigrant, abused woman, or disabled person, but a minority of activists, many of whom do not even belong to any “oppressed” group but come from privileged strata of society. Political correctness has its stronghold among university professors, who have secure employment with comfortable salaries, and the majority of whom are heterosexual white males from middle- to upper-middle-class families.

The language in this screed is a little dated, my dude, but I trust your judgment regarding university professors.

It is not the primitive man, who has used his body daily for practical purposes, who fears the deterioration of age, but the modern man, who has never had a practical use for his body beyond walking from his car to his house. It is the man whose need for the power process has been satisfied during his life who is best prepared to accept the end of that life.

In which the fear of death evaporates by a life well lived. Socratic.

The people who rise to positions of power in leftist movements tend to be leftist of the most power-hungry type because power-hungry people are those who strive hardest to get into positions of power. Once the power-hungry types have captured control of the movement, there are many leftists of a gentler breed who inwardly disapprove of many of the actions of the leaders, but cannot bring themselves to oppose them. They need their faith in the movement, and because they cannot give up this faith they go along with the leaders.

This comes tailing a hundred or so pages about how leftists are crippled by their personal insecurity and so enroll themselves in massive collectivists movements because it’s only through that union, through joining with this mob, that they can conceive of having personal power.

If our society had no social problems at all, the leftists would have to invent problems in order to provide themselves with an excuse for making a fuss.

He also argues that these libs, these despicable libs, tend to champion causes that are already part of the established status quo. Virtue signaling wasn’t a coined term when he wrote this, but it’s the same concept. I don’t have it marked, but let me paraphrase:

A leftist of this type will come out in staunch defense of something like racism being bad, which is a socially accepted perspective as it stands. The ones who argue that racism is good are social aberrants. Everyone agrees racism is bad. So when this leftist gets on the soapbox and bellows “racism is BAD you stupid FUCKERS! How many TIMES do I have to SAY IT?”, they’re not necessarily doing it to advance an anti-racist agenda, as the overwhelming majority of “the system’s” agenda is already vocally anti-racist.

Well, who could say? If Teddy was as smart as they claim, he wouldn’t be serving four consecutive life sentences plus 30 years right now. The philosophy makes sense in spots, but it’s predicated on a lot of assumptions that you need to be pretty disaffected to accept in the first place.

Four stars. It lost a star because I don’t want to be on any more watch lists than I already am.

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