PODCAST: William Powers & Nicholas Carr on the Internet and the State of Our Braaains [MP3]


Scared? We are too. And so is author Siva Vaidhyanathan, who read from his recent release The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) at the Harvard Book Store earlier this afternoon.

But if you happened to miss it -- or if you walked out of there craving more, MORE -- we've got just the ticket for you, pulled from our own bottomless podcast vault: two readings from similarly tech-wary authors Nicholas Carr (The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains) and William Powers (Hamlet's Blackberry):

What in the hell has our digital world done to us? Without much of a choice, we've all signed up for lives of obsessive connectivity; whether this is a good and necessary shift in lifestyle is the common query of both William Powers and Nicholas Carr's most recent books. Neither Luddite manifestos nor tech-nerd rhapsodies, they aim to question rather than condemn the way we use our gizmos, recognizing the benefits while weighing the costs.

Part intellectual wayfaring, part memoir, Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry searches for some solutions to the problem of information overkill, offering an everyday philosophy for our perennially plugged-in lives. To support his philosophy--which embraces the human need to connect, "to answer the call of the crowd," as well as the opposite desire for time and space apart and "unplugged"--Powers plumbs the annals of history, uncovering a trove of ideas he sees as having helped ancient folk manage and enjoy their increasingly connected lifestyles. "New technologies have always brought the mix of excitement and stress that we feel today," he says in the podcast. Taking full advantage of history's seminal thinkers, from Plato to Shakespeare to Thoreau, he maintains that that digital connectedness serves us best when it's balanced by its opposite: disconnectedness.

(As an aside, perhaps the best part of this reading is the explanation of the title: Hamlet did in fact have a Blackberry -- or the Elizabethan equivalent, a little notebook with erasable "pages," called a "writing table.")

Known for a more cautionary stance in relation to all this digitization, tech czar Nicholas Carr endeavored to understand the toll the Internet is taking on our smarts when he asked "Is Google making us stupid?" on the cover of a 2008 Atlantic Magazine. In his latest book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, he picks up where he left off, shedding light on a pressing debate of our time: As we continue to take advantage and push against the Internet's frontier, are we forgoing our ability to read and think deeply?

Weaving insights from philosophy, neuroscience, and history, Carr explains how the Web is rerouting our neural pathways, replacing the subtle mind of the book reader with the distracted mind of the screen gazer. The book is a clarion call for caution, and an attempt to preserve the human capacity for prolonged thought and wisdom, citing, among other things, the Internet's proclivity for hyperlinks as having deleterious effects on honed reading and understanding.

That said, both Powers and Carr acknowledge that it's neither possible nor preferable to rewind the progress of technology; they love their Google Alerts and video texts as much as the next guy--they just want to make sure we don't lose our precious minds in the process.

Lucky for you, the tech-wizards-that-be haven't figured out how to put hyperlinks in podcasts yet, so have a listen and see what you think--that is, if you're still capable of engaging in a task for more than 45 seconds.

DOWNLOAD: William Powers discusses Hamlet's Blackberry at the Harvard Book Store [MP3]

DOWNLOAD: Nicolas Carr discusses The Shallows at the Harvard Book Store [MP3]

Podcasts recorded live at the Harvard Book Store); if you, check out the Harvard Book Store's calendar of upcoming events. To subscribe to our podcast, paste this RSS feed into your podcatcher or feed-reader of choice, or bookmark

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