Books & Technology: Friends or Foes?
Is Google making us stupid? When Nicholas Carr posed that question in a celebrated Atlantic essay, 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 Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?
Now Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by “tools of the mind” — from the alphabet, to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer — Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.
Building on the insights of thinkers from Plato to McLuhan, Carr makes a convincing case that every information technology carries an intellectual ethic — a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. He explains how the printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is the ethic of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption — and now the Net is remaking us in its own image. We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.
Part intellectual history, part popular science, and part cultural criticism, The Shallows sparkles with memorable vignettes — Friedrich Nietzsche wrestling with a typewriter, Sigmund Freud dissecting the brains of sea creatures, Nathaniel Hawthorne contemplating the thunderous approach of a steam locomotive — even as it plumbs profound questions about the state of our modern psyche. This is a book that will forever alter the way we think about media and our minds.
Nicholas Carr writes about technology, culture, and economics. His most recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, is a 2011 Pulitzer Prize nominee and a New York Times bestseller. Nick is also the author of two other influential books, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008) and Does IT Matter? (2004). His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Nick has been a columnist for The Guardian in London and has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, The New Republic, The Financial Times, Technology Review, and many other publications. His essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” has been collected in several anthologies, including The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009, The Best Spiritual Writing 2010, and The Best Technology Writing 2009.
Nick is a former member of the Encyclopedia Britannica's editorial board of advisors, was on the steering board of the World Economic Forum's cloud computing project, and was a writer-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley. He writes the popular blog Rough Type and is a sought-after speaker for academic and corporate events. Earlier in his career, he was executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. He holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A., in English and American Literature and Language, from Harvard University.
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“I wrote this book because it’s the one I wanted to read, and I tried to pack it full of the things I love: books and bookstores; design and typography; Silicon Valley and San Francisco; fantasy and science fiction; quests and projects. If you love those things too, I hope and believe you will enjoy a visit to the tall skinny bookstore next to the strip club.”
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore has been described as a gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.
Robin Sloan grew up near Detroit and now splits his time between Berkeley and the internet. He graduated from Michigan State with a degree in economics and, from 2002 to 2012, worked at Poynter, Current TV, and finally at Twitter in San Francisco, where he worked on media partnerships. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is his first novel. Ajax Penumbra 1969, a short prequel, was released in September.