The first question to consider in responding to Nicholas Carr’s essay is whether or not you agree with Carr’s central argument. Do you agree with Carr and believe that the human mind is shaped by tools of thought?
The answer to this question will inform your thesis.
In writing your response, you will also want to consider these questions:
- What is the most important point made in the article? Why is it the most important and do you agree or disagree with the implications attached to that point?
- Does Carr’s set of historical examples draw a compelling warning about how technology may be harmful to our essential humanity? Or do the examples instead merely show that we are pursuing an evolution of technology that will affect our thinking but not necessarily in ways that undermine our humanity?
- Is Carr implicitly suggesting that we should be skeptical of modern systems of organization (as in his factory efficiency example) and that we should prefer a non-technological world?
You might also choose three specific points made in the article and evaluate each one. He discusses technology’s impact on our thinking, the ubiquity and power of the internet, and qualifications/definitions of human thought (or what makes human thought specifically human). You can summarize the points Carr makes briefly then shape your response as an evaluation of the power and relevance of the conclusions presented therein.
Carr presents a number of specific instances from history and from culture at large to illustrate the notion that human thought is shaped by the tools used to express that thought (and also that the nature of our thinking is in part determined by the what we read and where/how we read). Carr quotes sociologist Daniel Bell to introduce the term “‘intellectual technologies’” and associates this concept of thought-mediating technology with things as diverse as clocks and typewriters.
The clock, Carr reports, “helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away.” The invention of mechanical clocks changed the way we think about time. Thus the technology we use to communicate measurements of time substantially shifted our relationship to this basic and once relatively fluid concept. Time as we know it was literally changed by the invention of the mechanical clock.
Similarly, the typewriter changed the way that Friedrich Nietzsche wrote because it changed the way he thought. The method of communication (in this case, the technology used in writing) directly caused a shift in the kinds of ideas that were communicated.
The diversity and ubiquity of the internet is connected to this set of examples and Carr suggests that “[n]ever has a communication system played so many roles in our lives - - or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts.” Carr argues bluntly that the internet is “reprogramming us.”
Given these correlations between the content of human thought and tools of thought, the essay poses an argument that you can agree or disagree with. His conclusion is that if our thinking is thoroughly shaped by the internet it will not truly count as “thinking” anymore, at least not in the traditional human sense of the term.
Do you agree with Carr that the internet is reducing and/or erasing our ability to think deeply and turning us into robotic and superficial “‘pancake people,’” our concentration spread across too wide an area to function as true concentration anymore?
Decide first if you agree or disagree then develop reasons to support your position. With those ideas in place, you should be able to write a solid three paragraphs in response to the article, directly addressing the material and ideas Carr offers in the piece.