Notes on The Shallows

This book was recommended by several colleagues at Ericsson. After reading it I find it quite worth reading. It is objective, profound in examples and analysis, persuasive, and smooth to read.

The author argues that our brains are plastic; and they are shaped gradually by new mediums, such as printing, radio, computers and the Internet,  throughout the history. When we take advantage of certain technologies, we tend to consider the technology as a part of ourselves. And by heavily relying on those technologies, we gradually loose the ability to do what’s been done by them. When we starts to use clocks, we loose the sense of timing; when we use GPS to guide ourselves, we loose the sense of orientation; after using typewriters/computers, we can no longer writing by hand. Our brains physically change during the course of using tools or memorizing things. Tools shape the way we think and act.

Computers and the Internet make information broadly accessible, however this does not increase our knowledge or problem solving skills. What we have done is just adapting ourselves to the tools. The contents are superflous while we only concentrate on the superficial. We get interrupted.

We mistakenly think ourselves as simulations of computers. However, computers are designed and built to simulate human behaviours but not otherwise. We may take advantage of them, but we should realise there are borders between us and the tools. We should not let them dominate our lives.

In the middle of writing the first two paragraphs of this post: I closed several previously opened browser tabs and took a glimpse over them; checked opened Linkedin to see if there are any interesting news; after two seconds I tried to open facebook and then realised I haven’t open up SSH tunnel yet, so I closed the facebook tab; then I changed the default text editor application for my system; tried to uninstall one of the text editors but aborted the task; navigated to the ebooks I have on my computer and tried to find something I have now already forgotten about; skimmed some books on Python, Ruby, Joomla, LaTex, and finally read one chapter on using regular expressions in Vim; after that I’m back in the browser to record this in my post. This happened probably within 10 minutes and now I have no idea why I interrupted writing this post in the first place. Oh, just now I Googled the word ‘interrupt’ since I couldn’t decide whether to use ‘interrupt’ or ‘pause’.

Indeed computers and the Internet are nice tools, for certain purposes. But they are merely tools. Don’t let them get in your way of doing what you really want and building what you want to become.

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