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The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains | [Nicholas Carr]

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Weaving insights from philosophy, neuroscience, and history into a rich narrative, The Shallows explains how the Internet is rerouting our neural pathways, replacing the subtle mind of the book reader with the distracted mind of the screen watcher. A gripping story of human transformation played out against a backdrop of technological upheaval, The Shallows will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.
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Publisher's Summary

The best-selling author of The Big Switch returns with an explosive look at technology’s effect on the mind.

“Is Google making us stupid?” When Nicholas Carr posed that question in an Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: as we enjoy the Internet’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration yet published of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences. Weaving insights from philosophy, neuroscience, and history into a rich narrative, The Shallows explains how the Internet is rerouting our neural pathways, replacing the subtle mind of the book reader with the distracted mind of the screen watcher. A gripping story of human transformation played out against a backdrop of technological upheaval, The Shallows will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.

©2010 Nicholas Carr (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Neuroscience and technology buffs, librarians, and Internet users will find this truly compelling.” (Library Journal)

“Cogent, urgent, and well worth reading.” (Kirkus Reviews)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 08-11-10
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 08-11-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Is the Internet Turning Our Brains to Mush?"

    I am currently listening to books that help me better understand the impact of the Internet on our lives. Though we will not understand the impact of the Internet for years to come, "The Shallows" aptly contributes to that understanding. I has pleased to see that this book was a thoughtful, patient, and informed presentation.
    Essentially, Carr suggests that our ability to focus, concentrate and think is being altered in ways we are yet to understand. Hence, we are being pushed into the intellectual "shallows." Multitasking is not necessarily helpful to learning and understanding. Data does not necessarily equal wisdom. We are not as reflective as we need to be. I suppose that if you believe that tools determine behavior or if you believe behavior determines the use of tools will determine if you encounter the Internet with optimism or pessimism.
    Thoughtfully written and Garcia’s reading is great.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Scott S. Lyman 08-04-10 Listener Since 2008
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    "Worth Reading"

    A very worth while listen, and deserving an actual read. There are many provocative yet trite "science for the masses" books. This is not one of them. Carr does a wonderful job of addressing a complicated and far reaching concern and educating the reader to many topics while surveying a great deal prior work.

    Additionally, the narration is quite pleasant, though the irony of listening to this book is inescapable.

    After listening I intend to buy a print copy for further review and to track down its sources.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 11-11-13
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 11-11-13 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "Exceedingly Important Reading!..."

    There is a lot of back and forth in the press--and here in these reviews--about whether or not the 24/7 online status of today's American culture is eroding the mental capabilities of the current generation. As someone who has been teaching college English for 25 years and has seen both sides of the divide, I can clearly say: YES, IT IS. This book tells it like it is, and how it is--unfortunately--is that the average attention span is growing painfully shorter and shorter due to the constant distracting allure (?!) of cellphones, texting, and the ever-present availability of the Internet on cellphones, Ipads, tablets, etc. It only makes sense: the brain becomes rewired for short-term attention to fleeting images and interactions, and so more longer demands on focus begin to feel like running a marathon after having spent the last five years on the couch. And not only has it clearly eroded students' ability to pay attention and take part in class discussions--it has also seriously damaged relationships, trading FB BFF's for real-life friendships. If you doubt it, go to any college campus and watch for a while: how many people do you see talking with each other, and how many do you see with their heads in their 3'X3" electronic worlds, thumbs going like mad about the latest cat video--or whatever it is they are looking at. We are getting less attentive, more stupid, and less interactive, and this can not bode well for the future. Read this book; get the truth--and then rejoin the real world.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peppermint Berlin, Germany 05-22-11
    Peppermint Berlin, Germany 05-22-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Finally"

    Since a long while I had a feeling of being able to concentrate less and less on long texts. I would start to read a book but soon check something on the internet instead, switching between book and internet and finally sticking to the net in the end. Nicholas Carr explains not only why I had that strong urge to jump to the net, but also (among other things) why later on I would have to struggle to remember what I read in the book.
    I highly recomend this book to everyone who wonders why its so difficult to part with the net for longer periods of time.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David New York, NY, United States 09-20-10
    David New York, NY, United States 09-20-10 Member Since 2005
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    "Fine book; awful narration"

    Unfortunately, this is the first audiobook I've ever stopped listening to because of the narration. The text of the book would warrant a higher rating, but I found the narrator distractingly bad.

    I realize these things are often a matter of personal taste, but a warning to those with sensitive ears: definitely make sure to listen to the sample first. If you find yourself squirming after 30 seconds, I promise you'll be screaming after 30 minutes.

    I plan to finish reading a physical copy of the book, as it's quite interesting. So if you can handle the narrator, by all means check it out.

    16 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adam Shields Marietta, GA, USA 08-03-12
    Adam Shields Marietta, GA, USA 08-03-12

    Book blogger at Bookwi.se

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    "It is not consistant, so it is frustrating."

    The Shallows is not a new book. It has been out for about two years and many people, much smarter than I have had their take at it. My short review, Carr has lots of good points, which tend to be lost amidst his hyperbole and cherry picked stats.

    At the center of this argument is that people are reading books less. And he has some statistics from the Bureau of Labor to show this. But the National Endowment for the Arts study shows the largest increase in reading in decades (in all types of reading except poetry). Right off the bat, this severely undercuts his argument. The NEA study came out after the book, so I don’t blame him for not using it. But even if it had come out I think he would have disputed it. Because in that study a novel is counted as reading a novel no matter what format you read it in. But Carr does not believe that.

    “An ebook is no more related to a book than an online newspaper is related to a print newspaper.” (By which, he means that they are not hardly related at all in the context of the quote.)

    “Electronic text is impermanent…it seems likely that that removing the sense of closure from book writing will in time will alter writer’s attitudes toward their work. Their pressure to achieve perfection will diminish as well as the artistic rigor that it imposed… One only need to glance at the history of correspondence…the cost will be a further severing of the intellectual attachment between the lone reader and the lone writer…”

    My biggest complaint is that Carr uses a very broad definition of the net and alternates between examples to fit his need. For instance he talks about the immediacy and interactivity of the net at one point and gives examples of a teen texting a friend. But that interaction is fundamentally different from reading a blog post or watching a YouTube video. Yes the common thread is that all use the means of the internet, but to pretend that they actually give us interaction in a similar way or that they are creating ‘neural pathways’ in a similar way as one another or reinforcing the same neural pathways seems to be stretching reality. In this same example he complains that ‘When we are online we are lost to the world around us.” Which is essentially the same thing that he says holds up as important about reading a book, what he said was lost about reading an ebook or reading online. So he wants us lost in a book, but not lost on a webpage?

    There are a lot of good points here. One of them is that they type of work that we do lends itself to short term immediate thinking and crowds out some of the background processing that our brains use for creative thinking. I heard another author make a similar point this way in an interview. The author said, if you want to be a writer you need a job that is physically active and mentally easy. That is why so many authors are laborers or waiters. Office work requires active use of the brain throughout the day and does not allow for background thinking (not to mention doesn’t give us the physical exercise we need to stay healthy.

    Another very good point is that reading texts that have hyperlinks and pulled out text and video and images requires our brains to constantly evaluate the importance of that particular item. Do you want to click on the link or not? Even though these thoughts are subconscious they still prevent us from obtaining full concentration on the meaning of the text. But this is more a formatting issues than ‘internet’ issue. Because he complains about this for ebooks, but does not bring it up on the formatting of paper books (no links, but end notes, footnotes and sidebar would have a similar effect.)

    Continually, I think that my frustration with this book is that he is trying to make the case too strongly and too broadly. There are advantages of the internet (which he admits) that offset some of the negatives. But there are also ways to minimize the negatives through better design (which he seems to minimize the possibility). For instance in dedicated ebook readers present the text without distraction most of the time. I only use the dictionary when I don’t know what a word means, but otherwise, I never use wikipedia or websearch while reading my kindle. I leave sharing options and wifi off when I am reading, I don’t want to be bothered, I want to read the book. Encouraging single use devices instead of multi-use devices can aid in concentration. If you look at my review of reading on the ipad from 2 years ago, my main complaint was that it wasn’t single use.

    Also I know many writers that have started using various distraction apps in their computer. These apps are full screen, no formatting and they disable all sound and sometimes even disable all other programs in the background. They even have options to gray out all of the text that you are not working on, so your immediate line or paragraph is black, but everything else is gray.

    Carr makes the case well that we should not expect the internet or computers to make us smarter. I know that there are those that believe that and write about that. But Carr does not really look at the opposite. He shows that the internet is changing our brains (as does everything that we do), but is that really making us dumber? Is it helping us adapt to the world around us? Carr brings up many issues of concern. But on the whole I feel that his treatment of those issues once they are brought is lacking. Strawmen and Cherry-picked data abound. In those areas that I have done some independent research on outside of this book, I find his work very one sided. Which makes me doubt the veracity of the data that I do not have a prior background in.

    On the whole I recommend the book if you have an interest about how the history of technology changes (that section was very good) or an intro to brain science (also good, but if anything he underplays this case). But in the end I felt like the book was lacking in balance and restraint. For a better treatment of the general problems with technology I would read John Dyer’s From the Garden. It includes an equally good understanding of the role of technology, but is much more balanced and useful.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joseph Petaluma, CA, United States 05-26-14
    Joseph Petaluma, CA, United States 05-26-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Its true."

    I wanted to hate this book, and there is plenty of passionate negativity on the internet about it - mainly from those who haven't read it. The author brings an historical perspective to how technology has fundamentally changed how our minds operate. You wont like what he has to say, but you'll agree with his findings.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte A. Hu San Antonio, TX, United States 05-23-13
    Charlotte A. Hu San Antonio, TX, United States 05-23-13

    USMC journalist, turned Embassy FSO, now USAF Web Chief

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    "I Disagree: Not Only Elites, More People Read Now"

    First, as appropriate self-disclosure, I should note that the title and description of this book turned me off because I'm a technophile. However, I read books that I feel viscerally opposed to precisely because I feel opposed to them. I don't want my brain to get too narrow.

    Even though I disagree with the concepts presented in this book, I'm giving it 4 stars because I think it adds a valid argument to the overall discussion on the impact of the Internet and it's impact.

    That said, my initial response to a lot of his points was that they were valid. Some of the points in this book are valid. The increasing "drinking from a fire hydrant" feeling of information overload is undeniably real. The problem with this book is that he compares our current life to the "good ol' days" when people read more deeply, wrote more deeply, etc. And even he notes that those were the rich elite. In fact, in the good ol' days, most of the world was illiterate.

    My cousin is a construction work and my brother installs security cameras for a living. Both claim they hated high school and neither could tolerate much more formal education. My brother choked down some university courses because he was able earn GI Bill beer money as a result.

    Still, decades ago, my conversations with them lacked depth and range. Today, my brother is well versed on a wide variety of science, technology, politics, global events. I'm amazed at the conversations I have with both of them and with other family members who eschewed formal education.

    Not only is technology bringing people with little interest in deep reading into the fold, its expanding the reach and range for those of us with an interest in everything. I've always loved to read, but years ago, I had to dedicate a week or two to a good book. Now, with my audible.com empowered iPod, I can consume a book in a day or two. This one included.

    Japanese are surprisingly well-read; at least Tokyoites, owing to the hours they spend in commute on the Metro system. I learned to love my iPod when I was commuting by bus and metro in DC. I don't need a seat. I don't need to focus on bouncing words on a page to read. My iPod keeps dumping ideas into my brain as I step up onto the bus, touch my smart card to pay for the bus, walk down the stairs into the metro, pass through the turnstiles. My reading hours have been expanded to any time when I'm driving, walking, even exercising.

    Sorry, the end result I see is more people with more data in their brains, processing more information and mulling it over in conversations. The world isn't getting more shallow, but it might getting "flat" er. Today, literacy rates throughout the world are climbing, access to a range of information. Globally, it's a good thing on the whole. I'm sure the intellectual elite are still reading just as deeply as ever before.

    Thanks for the idea, though.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 08-14-11
    Andy Westport, CT, United States 08-14-11 Member Since 2002
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    "fascinating commentary"

    I'm a big Carr fan and his latest soap box does not disappoint. Really fascinating to hear his take on what is happening to our brains as the result of our always-on lifestyle. Not only does Carr explain this through current science but also comparing it to another key development in how our brains have been shaped - the printing press.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Edward C. Charbonnet Memphis, TN 03-04-11
    Edward C. Charbonnet Memphis, TN 03-04-11 Member Since 2006
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    "Positive and Negative Perspectives"

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. I did not agree with some of his conclusions but enjoyed the discussions and he did try to show both sides of most arguments. He presents discussions of modern tools used to study the brain and our discovery of it remarkable plasticity. I also enjoyed his study on the history of reading and writing. His key premise is that most people are losing the ability and interest in reading long deep novels and they only want the quick reads such as we get off the internet articles and emails. I believe it is healthy to discuss these ideas but I do not think his results are universal. For one, I use the internet to downloads books that I would never have discovered otherwise. So it has enhanced my reading.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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