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Colbert Report redux

June 28, 2010

I am scheduled to be on the Colbert Report this Wednesday, chatting with Stephen Colbert about The Shallows. Tune in, or program your Tivo appropriately. (I was on the show once before, about two years ago, and you can watch that interview, during which Stephen multitasked with his iPhone, here.)

In the meantime, I will be talking about the book at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., this evening [details], and at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., tomorrow evening [details].



Awesome. I really enjoyed watching that interview a few years back, and it's great you're going back for round #2.

Posted by: John Schoettler [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 28, 2010 11:47 PM


Why do you think that very few politicians and economists rarely (if ever) bring up the reality of the influence of 'technological unemployment' on our country’s high unemployment? As technology/machines commoditized human labor in the 20th century the exponential growth of advanced algorithms and narrow A.I. appears to be commoditizing human intelligence in the 21st century. As the wave of technological progress sweeps over a given occupation and/or industry it commoditizes it and drives down wages in those fields accordingly. Those who are in occupations that are fortunate enough to be able to stay just in front of this ‘wave of progress’ are able to hold onto their higher wage yet enjoy all the benefits of lower priced goods and services as a result of those very ‘productivity gains’. While many were able to stay in front of this wave of progress by moving away from commoditized manual labor and into service jobs (that supposedly required more education and skill). The explosive growth of computers which grew exponentially as a result of the Internet, has increased both the speed and size of this ‘wave of progress’ that’s driving down real wages in the service sector. Complex methods of finance and borrowing (which were made possible by computers/algorithms) allowed individuals, corporations, and governments to over leverage themselves to absurd levels which temporally masked real earnings deflation (for many) over the last decade or two. As heavy borrowing and over leveraging collapsed on itself during the financial crisis of 2008 (for most individuals and businesses, but apparently not for all governments at the moment), it revealed the dark side of the technological revolution which has captivated all of us (in way or another) for so long.

Posted by: John Schoettler [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2010 12:47 AM

Colbert report! Whats next? Is Fearless Leader going to be a character on Family Guy or the Simpsons?

Posted by: Sam Clemmons [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 30, 2010 03:08 PM


My wife and I just watched your interview and while you were as thoughtful and on point as usual, Colbert seemed to have transgressed into a hunched over shell of his former self. When I compare this interview with the one from 2008, he was far more engaging and funny back then while this interview he appeared trite and disconnected. Regardless, exposer is exposer and the more people who are made aware of this book the better.

Posted by: John Schoettler [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 1, 2010 03:26 AM

I do agree, Mr. Carr, that the internet is organized in a manner that promotes distraction. However, I believe the way that an individual interacts with the internet is very dependent on their pre-existing ability to focus. Being someone who has used the internet for half of his life, I do not believe that it has crippled my ability to focus... although it is amusing to note that in my generation, many of us seem to be diagnosed with ADD, but I doubt there is a correlation there.

When I stumble on things that genuinely interest me, I read them in depth. For example, some fairly lengthy articles regarding yourself. Or Mr. Schoettler's post above me. If it has done anything detrimental, it may be in how deeply I've been able to focus on what I would call unimportant subject matter. There is a massive bounty of useless information out there that I have absorbed, spent focused hours reading, simply out of interest. On the contrary however, there is a massive bounty of useful information out there that deep reading, deeply inquiring minds are very quick to take advantage of. To say that the availability and interconnectedness of the knowledge is somehow detrimental doesn't seem quite right to me; the Library of Alexandria would have been useless if you, overwhelmed, walked through the aisles and only read the spines, yes. But deep reading is just as possible on the internet. These temptations that do not exist in books have varying effects with people. I think we may find that those prone to deep reading and scholarly study will still remain deep readers and critical thinkers. If there is an alarming trend in the research habits of students, I think it is mainly because most students are quite lazy. Internet has made research easier, and students consequently are allowed to be lazier. But that small percentage, those who actually go on to BE researchers, cannot afford to act like the average student once they reach a particular level. I think they will continue the tradition.

As for computers/AI replacing us, well it is an old point now but I do agree. Mr. Kazcynski agreed, and so did Mr. Thorough. That is perhaps how inevitable such things are: the forces of economy and ease, the development of technology. It will reduce us, or most of us, to grease in the gears. Or it could be that that is what most humans have always been, only with more self-esteem. I don't believe there is any social or moral revolution that can occur to stop such a development, any more than it could have been stopped in the many historical episodes you mentioned. The silver lining is that technology isn't used simply to advance technology itself, but the abilities of humans as well. If humans can synthesize with technology, as we are currently doing in some limited fashion as well as in doubtless more complex and profound ways in the future, then perhaps we can replace the fate of being HAL's janitor to being one with HAL.

Posted by: Chris Kneisel [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 1, 2010 03:58 AM

just listened to your comments on "the current" on CBC. It seems you are profiting from reinforcing negative stereotypes among those who are either afraid or tentative about joining "the digital revolution". Its easy to sell books to people who read books and revile the internet by reinforcing how "dangerous" the internet is.

The reality is, the internet is increasing our collective intelligence which, counter intuitively, actually increases our individual complexity.

Evidence of this is your characterization of the entire internet as a series of "hyperlinks". It sounds like you dont have a lot of experience using facebook, which connects us by personal relationship rather than subject/keyword, and adds personal context. That is why its so popular. Our need to connect with each other is not unhealthy, it is not something that should be feared. Evolution occurs because of connectedness. Thinking, in fact, the brain itself, works so well because of its interconnectedness. Collectives do not reduce the individual parts. Quite the opposite. Without stimulus of connectedness, the individual parts atrophy.

So, by fighting connectedness in your book, you are actually antagonistic towards social connectedness, and put your "followers" at a disadvantage to those of us embracing the digital tools and demanding they continue to help us become more connected.

I'm asking you to stop.

Ryan Cameron.

Posted by: Ryan Cameron [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 2, 2010 08:33 AM

Great point, John. Call me a Luddite, but I am a big believer that we're destroying more jobs than we're creating. I discussed this at length in a guest piece for ReadWriteWeb:


Posted by: Psimon88 [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 4, 2010 11:55 AM


I can understand why someone would want to become a luddite or go Amish, but I'm not inclined to follow them at this point.

As technology commoditizes human labor (and slivers of intelligence) it drives down wages in those occupations accordingly. The only way to reduce it's deflationary influence is to stay as far in front of this 'wave of progress' as you can by using every ounce of creativity you got. Unfortunately, way too many people today are becoming 'economically commoditized' (by intellectual technologies) and are seeing significant and permanent wage deflation in their jobs.

However, there is always a future (and higher wages) in being the best in your particular industry, creating something unique, or doing a job that very few people want to do (for whatever reason).

Posted by: John Schoettler [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 6, 2010 12:18 AM

Thank you! As a baby boomer who had children later in life...your insights clarified what I have always felt. Students are adept at facts and computer savvy, but there is no depth to their knowledge. It's the persistence and an acute need to solve a problem that is missing. This dedication to persistence was innate to me...almost to the point of obsession. But I do not see this compulsion now, in many. If the answer if not readily available, a problem seems unsolvable.

I can spend time researching an issue thoroughly and persistently, with different types of resources, including, but exclusively, the internet. But no matter what rules I set in my home, my children, who attend a private school, use the internet as a major resource. It is fast, easy, and to the point.

If we could regulate cyberspace like the way we regulate the safety of seat belts. Seat belts save lives, this new technology affects the brain, social abilities, and gives direct answers to questions, we might ordinarily research, in depth. The reapers of this valuable, but unruly instrument, will be our undoing. Look at the restrictions for children in other countries. Thank you, and keep the message out there. There are many parents, like me, who know what to do, but wish there was an easier way to do it. Could you make this a priority in your next book????

Terri Leone

Posted by: Teri Leone [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 6, 2010 01:48 PM

A different view.
The three books from Carr emphasize the effects of Internet on the information processing area. In my opinion, the main mission of the next generation Internet is beyond information.
According to the Chandler’s book, A Nation Transformed by Information, in fact, the Americans have prepared more than 300 years for entering the information age.
We can see three major clues in his book:
1) In 1828, American had completed the construction of the postal network; in 1844, established the first telegraph line; and in 1876, the first telephone system. Clearly, the postal, telegraph and telephone (PTT) had established the core of communication platform.
2) Since the 1792 Postal Act, the U.S. Congress made great efforts to promote the publishing and circulation of newspapers through long-term postal subsidies. By 1919, the creation of Radio, and in 1930, radio receivers were popular to the American families. In 1947, the official opening of Television broadcast. We can see that newspapers, radio and television had formed the core of the mass media platform.
3) The early commercial information processing technology, including punch card tabulation machines, typewriters, cash registers, carbon paper, mimeographs, mechanical adders and so on. In 1946, the emergence of digital computers, and in 1981, available of personal computers, clearly, this is a complete information service platform.

In fact, the traditional communications, media and information services are three completely independent platforms.
When the wheel of history has rolled to the last 10 years of the 20th century, the electronics industry began moving toward integration. In 1995, Americans have been aware that the impact of the Internet will be greater than the PC, and all information can be merged together through the Internet. The Internet has reached out into the field of communications and media, this new integration will bring about unprecedented social impulses.
Unfortunately, Chandler did not pay enough attention to the entertainment technology development, such as online games, and I think that the entertainment platform is also part of the future network service. However, it is important that in the foreseeable future, it will not see the number five network platform.
In the span of history over hundreds of years, I believe that the future network progress trends have been clearly visible.
Along the spirit of the Internet convergence, the great unified communications network will integrate the next generation communications platform, the next generation media platforms, the next generation entertainment platform, and the next generation information service platform, to achieve perfect unity. In other words, as long as the four platforms are fully integrated, it achieves the ultimate goal of human communications network.

Posted by: henry gao [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 6, 2010 11:30 PM


"The Shallow" will be published in Japanese on 25th July and I am looking forward to reading it. But the Japanese title was defined as "Net Baka" that literary means "Net Stupid". It sounds like the a headline of sleazy tabloid. While I read all your books and subscribe your blog, I feel so shocked that the Japanese title of your new book unnecessarily inflame popular sentiments and inappropriate. If you are O.K. on that title, I am O.K. Just want to share the information.

Sorry for posting the comment that is not related to your entry.

Posted by: Ktdisk [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 9, 2010 05:18 PM

Ryan Cameron:
I think you are misinterpreting what Fearless Leader is trying to do, hes not selling books bashing the Internet. He’s a social critic trying to shape the debate on what this relatively new technology is doing to change human cognitive evolution. For centuries people have had similar debates when new technologies are integrated into our societies: writing, scrolls, books, telegraphy, telephones, radio, television and now the Internet. All of these technologies had similar debates in the past - even comic books stirred a similar type of debate in the 1950s. Democracy depends on the ability to sit down and sort through issues and FL is just warning us that the downside of interactive media like the Internet is that that skill may be lost to the coming generation. I don't think that will happen; there is a righting mechanism that allows evolution to work and that will eventually transform the internet into a less distractive form that in more appropriate for rational thinking

Posted by: Sam Clemmons [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 13, 2010 04:30 PM

I read the first 95 pages of THE SHALLOWS yesterday. Wow, and I read it intently and without being distracted too much. I'm not sure how the middle sections will go, but I enjoyed the lecture on the history of literacy at any rate.

I am like Mr. Carr and many others. It's become far more difficult to stay focused and read many books. I've used the Internet for about 18 years.

I'm surprised that Mr. Carr is in his early 50's. From his photo, I would have guessed he's much younger. Why am I commenting on this?

I am convinced that spending most of one's time reading at intermediate distance (e.g. computer monitor) has an adverse affect on one's normal, print-reading vision. The "intermediate" becomes the strongest through preference. It only stands to reason that the ciliary muscles in the eye (accommodating muscles) become weak through disuse. This is yet another reason why book reading has become more difficult for some of us, especially if we're over 40.

I know all this, because even though I'm 58, I've already had one cataract removed, and have a Crystalens implanted in my left eye, and my intermediate vision seems to be best. My near vision is lousy, and is not going to improve unless I practice reading books and magazines a lot!

By the way, another reason that it's harder to read books is that, at least in the area of fiction, agents and marketers seem to feel that 400 pages is best! I see this all of the time. It's almost like they're being paid per word! I would like to see more novellas and more 275-300 page novels. No wonder I don't read many novels. Why don't they get it?

Posted by: Sherry White [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 19, 2010 01:39 PM

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