Marshall McLuhan once observed that in assessing the effect of new technologies, we invariably get caught up in an analysis of the content coming through the medium. In doing so, we tend to neglect a more fundamental question: how is the form of this medium altering our reception of the content being conveyed through it?
Building on McLuhan’s oft-quoted dictum that “the medium is the message”, Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains asks how the internet is changing the way our brains receive, process and store information.
Carr begins by taking the reader on a fascinating journey through some of the different ‘intellectual technologies’ (that is, technologies which effect how we communicate information) that have dominated human civilization, showing that “in the long run a medium’s content matters less than the medium itself in influencing how we think and act.”
Of course, this is nothing new. We have probably all read about the way the clock changed the way people thought of time, or how the map altered our perception of space, and so forth. Where The Shallows breaks new ground, however, is in bringing the history of communication up to date with the latest discoveries in neuroscience.