10/1/11: French edition of The Shallows published, under the title Internet rend-il bête?, by Robert Laffont.
9/7/11: Nicholas Carr's new ebook, Building Bridges: Essays on Business Technology and Innovation, published for Amazon Kindle.
9/1/11: The Shallows named finalist for 2011 PEN Center Literary Award.
6/6/11: Paperback edition of The Shallows published, with new afterword.
4/18/11: The Shallows named finalist for 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.
Nicholas Carr discusses the consequences of information overload at 2011 Economist conference:
"If it were just a matter of moving bits and bytes around, a universal online library might already exist. Google, after all, has been working on the challenge for 10 years. But the search giant's book program has foundered; it is mired in a legal swamp. Now another momentous project to build a universal library is taking shape. It springs not from Silicon Valley but from Harvard University. The Digital Public Library of America — the DPLA — has big goals, big names, and big contributors. And yet for all the project's strengths, its success is far from assured. Like Google before it, the DPLA is learning that the major problem with constructing a universal library nowadays has little to do with technology. It's the thorny tangle of legal, commercial, and political issues that surrounds the publishing business. Internet or not, the world may still not be ready for the library of utopia."
From The Library of Utopia
Technology Review, May-June, 2012
"Once digitized, a page of words loses its fixity. It can change every time it's refreshed on a screen. A book page turns into something like a Web page, able to be revised endlessly after its initial uploading. There's no technological constraint on perpetual editing, and the cost of altering digital text is basically zero. As electronic books push paper ones aside, movable type seems fated to be replaced by movable text."
From Books That Are Never Done Being Written
Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2011
"The eras of greatest ferment and creativity in popular music, such as the mid-60s and the late 70s, were times of social discontent, when the young rejected the past and its stifling traditions. Providing the soundtrack for rebellion, rock musicians felt compelled to slay their fathers rather than pay tribute to them. Even if their lyrics were about getting laid or getting high—as they frequently were—their songs were filled with political force. Those not busy being born, as Dylan put it shortly after taking an axe to his folkie roots, are busy dying. Now, youth culture is largely apolitical, and pop’s soundtrack is just a soundtrack. Those not busy being born are busy listening to their iPods. Whether it’s Fleet Foxes or Friendly Fires, Black Angels or Beach House, today’s bands are less likely to battle the past than to luxuriate in it. This is not to say they aren’t good bands. There is plenty of fine pop music being made today, in an ear-boggling array of styles. But drained of its subversive energies, none of it matters much. It just streams by."
From Past-Tense Pop
The New Republic, August 4, 2011
"McLuhan was a scholar of literature, with a doctorate from Cambridge, and his interpretation of the intellectual and social effects of media was richly allusive and erudite. But what particularly galvanized the public was the weirdness of his prose. Perhaps because of his unusual mind, he had a knack for writing sentences that sounded at once clinical and mystical. His books read like accounts of acid trips written by a bureaucrat. That kaleidoscopic, almost psychedelic style made him a darling of the counterculture — the bearded and the Birkenstocked embraced him as a guru — but it alienated him from his colleagues in academia. To them, McLuhan was a celebrity-seeking charlatan."
From The Medium Is McLuhan
The New Republic, January 21, 2011
"The bond between book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one, a means of intellectual and artistic cross-fertilization. The words of the writer act as a catalyst in the mind of the reader, inspiring new insights, connections, and perceptions. And the very existence of the attentive, critical reader provides the spur for the writer’s work. It gives the author the confidence to explore new forms of expression, to blaze difficult and demanding paths of thought, to venture into uncharted and sometimes hazardous territory. 'All great men have written proudly, nor cared to explain,' said Emerson. 'They knew that the intelligent reader would come at last, and would thank them.'"
From The Shallows
Big Think interview:
"Television is escaping the TV set and the cable box. We no longer watch the tube. We watch, to borrow ex-Senator Ted Stevens’s memorable conceit, a series of tubes."
From The Price of Free
The New York Times Magazine, November 15, 2009
"If you’ll walk around with a Bluetooth headset hanging from your ear, you’ll probably walk around with a Google chip in your brain."
From Computing the Cost
The Sun, March, 2009
"For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired's Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
From Is Google Making Us Stupid?
The Atlantic, July-August 2008
"The interplay of technological and economic forces rarely produces the results we at first expect. There are some who remain convinced that computerization, as it continues to gain momentum, will begin to close the wealth gap that up to now it has helped widen. That’s the pattern that has occurred in past technological revolutions. But when we take into account the economic forces that the World Wide Computer is unleashing - the spread of the increasing-returns dynamic to more sectors of the economy, the replacement of skilled as well as unskilled workers with software, the global trade in knowledge work, and the ability of companies to aggregate volunteer labor and harvest its economic value - we’re left with a prospect that is far from utopian. The erosion of the middle class may well accelerate, as the divide widens between a relatively small group of extraordinarily wealthy people - the digital elite - and a very large set of people who face eroding fortunes and a persistent struggle to make ends meet. In the YouTube economy, everyone is free to play, but only a few reap the rewards."
From The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google,
January 7, 2008
"Many of the most innovative and successful of Google’s new services are, in fact, ones it has acquired rather than created. Those include the hugely popular video-sharing service YouTube, the weblog publisher Blogger, the virtual globe Google Earth, the online word processor Writely (renamed Google Docs), the wiki developer JotSpot, the news syndication service Feedburner, and the Internet phone service GrandCentral. When it comes to innovation, Google is starting to look less like a sower than a harvester, less like an inventor than an exploiter. That’s a natural and perhaps necessary progression for a rapidly growing company, but it belies the firm’s popular image as a wildly successful innovator."
From The Google Enigma,
Strategy & Business, Winter 2007
"23andMe, the Google-backed genetic-profiling company, says that it will give users 'the ability to connect with other 23andMe customers through sharing features.' 23andMe could evolve into a social network, a biotech version of MySpace or Facebook where people make connections not with friends but with people who share similar genetic traits. Given that 23andMe tracks its customers' movements with cookies, it may not be long before we see genetically targeted advertising."
From Genotyping Goes Mainstream,
The Guardian, November 22, 2007
"Marketing is conversational, says Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, and advertising is social. There is no intimacy that is not a branding opportunity, no friendship that can't be monetized, no kiss that doesn't carry an exchange of value. The cluetrain has reached its last stop, its terminus, the end of the line. The social graph, it turns out, is a platform for social graft."
From The Social Graft,
Rough Type, November 6, 2007
"The open source model of production - when it works effectively - is not as egalitarian or democratic as it is often made out to be. Linux has been successful not just because so many people have been involved, but because the crowd’s work has been filtered through a central authority who holds supreme power as a synthesizer and decision maker. As the Linux project has grown, Linus Torvalds has gathered a hierarchy of talented software programmers around him to help manage the crowd and its contributions. It’s not a stretch to say that the Linux bureaucracy forms a cathedral that coordinates the work of the bazaar and molds it into a unified product."
From The Ignorance of Crowds,
Strategy & Business, Summer 2007
"Today’s software companies are finding that, as more computing tasks move online, they have to compete not just on the elegance of their programs, but on their ingenuity and efficiency in buying and deploying physical assets — land, buildings, computers, and other gear — as well as managing the huge amounts of energy required to keep all the machines running. The management of atoms is becoming as important as the management of bits."
From Software Gets Physical,
The Hindu, June 29, 2007
"The unexamined life, said Socrates, is not worth living. Today, we seem to be operating under a new and very different dictum: the unrecorded life is not worth living. Thanks to digital technologies, we now have the tools to chronicle our daily actions and thoughts in the minutest detail - and to share the record with the world."
From A World That Never Forgets,
The Guardian, June 7, 2007
"Creative people are great, but creativity tends to be a messy process. There are going to be areas of your business where that's OK, and there are going to be areas where the last thing you want is messiness. In those areas you should value and reward competent people who can do routine tasks very, very well. That's just as important as having brilliant, breakthrough thinkers."
From How To Be a Smart Innovator,
Wall Street Journal, September 18, 2006
"Something happened in the first years of the 20th century that would have seemed unthinkable just a few decades earlier: Manufacturers began to shut down and dismantle their waterwheels, steam engines and electric generators. They no longer had to run their own dynamos; they could simply buy the electricity they needed, as they required it, from new utility suppliers. Power generation was being transformed from a corporate function into a utility. Now, almost exactly a century later, history is repeating itself. Information technology is undergoing the same transformation."
From The End of Corporate Computing,
MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2005
"From the start, the World Wide Web has been a vessel of quasi-religious longing. And why not? For those seeking to transcend the physical world, the Web presents a readymade Promised Land. On the Internet, we're all bodiless, symbols speaking to symbols in symbols. The early texts of Web metaphysics, many written by thinkers associated with or influenced by the post-60s New Age movement, are rich with a sense of impending spiritual release; they describe the passage into the cyber world as a process of personal and communal unshackling, a journey that frees us from traditional constraints on our intelligence, our communities, our meager physical selves. We become free-floating netizens in a more enlightened, almost angelic, realm."
From The Amorality of Web 2.0,
Rough Type, October 3, 2005
"As people become accustomed to a particular product or process, they often begin to take its flaws for granted — and hence become blind to the possibility for improvement. That’s especially true of people who had a hand in creating a prevailing system and thus have a direct stake in its perpetuation."
From The Weakest Link,
Strategy & Business, Winter 2006
"Information technology is best understood as the latest in a series of broadly adopted technologies that have reshaped industry over the past two centuries - from the railroad to the telegraph to the electric generator. For a brief period, as they were being built into the infrastructure of commerce, all these technologies opened opportunities for forward-looking companies to gain real advantages. But as their availability increased and their cost decreased - as they became ubiquitous - they all became commodity inputs. From a strategic standpoint, they became invisible; they no longer mattered. That is exactly what is happening to information technology today, and the implications for corporate IT management are profound."
From IT Doesn't Matter, Harvard Business Review, 5/2003
"When a disruptive new technology arrives, the greatest business opportunities often lie not in creating the disruption but in mending it — in figuring out, a way to use an older, established technology as a bridge to carry customers to the benefits of the emerging technology. When we talk about business innovation today, we tend to use terms like breakthrough and pioneering and revolutionary. But some of the greatest and most lucrative innovations are essentially conservative. They are brought to market by companies that are as adept at looking backward as forward and that have the skill and patience to achieve the most commercially attractive balance between the old and the new. 'Conservative innovation' may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an idea that deserves to be a part of every company’s thinking."
From Bridging the Breakthrough Gap,
Strategy & Business, Winter 2004
"In stark contrast to the bottom-up variety, top-down disruptive innovations actually outperform existing products when they’re introduced, and they sell for a premium price rather than at a discount. They’re initially purchased by the most discriminating and least price-sensitive buyers, and then they move steadily downward, into the mainstream, to recast the entire market in their own image."
From Top-Down Disruption,
Strategy & Business, Spring 2005
"It may not be much consolation to taxpayers, but the F.B.I. has a lot of company. Software hell is a very crowded place."
From Does Not Compute,
New York Times, January 22, 2005
"Software never decays. Machinery breaks down, parts wear out, supplies get depleted. But software code remains unchanged by time or use. In stark contrast to other industrial products, software has no natural repurchase cycle. For software companies to grow, therefore, they have to give buyers good reasons to throw out perfectly serviceable versions of programs and install new ones in their place. Until recently, that hasn't been a problem. But now the software upgrade cycle is slowing."
From Microsoft Is Dead. Long Live Microsoft.,
New York Times, 7/23/2004
"In public, industry CEOs may continue to exercise their Peter Pan complexes, pretending that the IT business will never grow up. But behind the scenes they're dismantling Neverland piece by piece."
From Want to Piss Off a CEO?, Wired, 5/2004
"Flexibility used to denote a capacity to adapt temporarily to changing conditions without losing one's essential shape - as a tree bends in the wind and then snaps back to its original uprightness. Today flexibility means the capacity to move swiftly from one shape to another, to be always in flux - to have no essential shape at all. . . . Our lives become unending cycles of reinvention as we struggle to adapt to new, unforeseeable conditions. But every time we reinvent ourselves, we erase the meaning that our past experiences granted us. In place of an ethical sense of ourselves as people with clear attachments, we are left with an ironic sense of ourselves as fabrications. We become unreal, virtual."
From "Being Virtual: Character and the New Economy," Harvard Business Review, 5/1999
"When applied to business decisions, nonlinear thinking is often destructive. It leads companies to get ahead of their customers, developing and launching cool new products and services that few people need or want. It's great to beat your competitors into a market, but if you arrive before your customers, you're in big trouble."
From Get Back in that Box, Industry Standard, 4/16/2001
"Economists may be the dismal scientists, but at least they got one thing right: the nearer a market gets to a state of perfect competiton, the less profit companies make. That simple little law explains why so much commerce has moved onto the Internet so quickly. And it also explains why so many dot-coms are doomed."
From No Margin for Error, Industry Standard, 5/8/2000