Chapter 8 of The Shallows: The Church of Google


This is a phone post so expect more errors than usual.

I think Carr just wanted a Google chapter. It didn’t seem to fit in well as it spanned a large number of topics.

Carr starts out comparing Google’s research model to industrial Taylorism. That is, Google measures everything and refines their search engine to maximize drawing attention to their site and ads.

Google also first developed the AdWords system whereby only popular ads survive. This makes sure that Google gets the most revenue from ad clicks. It also, however, means the ads most likely to break your concentration are the ones shown to you.

Google also no longer relies solely on links to rate sites. One measure they use to rank sites is freshness. So dynamic content is further reinforced. New content and status updates distract us more.

Google sells advertising. But, by making complementary products cheaper Google is more able to sell add. The book makes the analogy that mustard sellers like cheap hot dogs. Google’s complement is information.

Thus, Google wants to digitize everything and make it searchable. This has lots of advantages. It does however raise the question of who controls the content. It also adds distractions- ads, links- as content is viewed. Google has in fact digitized a vast number of books. It further has reached compromises about how much it can show online. Here is what the digitization of The Shallows looks like.


Common passages are searchable and further available for quoting for public domain works. Word clouds can let you know about a book in a short time by seeing what words an author uses most frequently. This will lead to more skimming of works instead of reflection on the works.

Finally, Carr closes discussing how artificial intelligence has gone from an attempt to achieve it programmatically to an attempt to achieve it by training neural nets with connections like our brain.

While this chapter spans a lot I’d say Carr’s point is that Google wants cheap, easily accessible information. This will increase our ability and desire to skim. It will also increase the distractions we face when viewing the content.

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