I admit I went into The Shallows a convinced follower of the modern computer cult. I am not ashamed to say the book did not change my mind–well, maybe it did, given all that constantly changing neural pathways business. I was more impressed with Carr’s elucidations of how computers and the internet have changed the way we think than I was his doomsaying and especially his call to “grab an oar” and resist the current. I am thankful he was aware of his conservative stance in the “Luddite!-Philistine!” exchange between the pro- and anti-internet groups, and that kept me reading. I am convinced that he is right, that the internet is changing the way we think, like the typewriter did to Nietzsche. But what’s with the “loss of morality” garbage?
Humans weren’t exactly moral beings at the start. Is an angry mob holding rope in the town square of an arboreal village really less empathetic than the same multitude of people relaxing in their computer chairs? The internet has, I think, made people more empathetic. Websites like Reddit reveal the dangers of private prisons. Websites like YouTube allow victims of police brutality to prove they were victimized and draw outside attention to oppressive local governments.
Speed of information doesn’t seem to affect human empathy negatively if you ask me. Political lies like President Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” can now be fact-checked. Yes, the internet can be used to spread lies as well. But the printing press did nothing but that for decades, and who regrets its invention now? The Pope? Cry me a river.