Book Review: The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read, and Remember

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr: reviewby Robert Colvile
Published: 5:25PM BST 27 Aug 2010 by

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr: Review

Think about what you did last week. You might remember the nice meal, the chat to the cousin, the blazing row. But odds are, you spent the most time doing the same thing as the rest of us: staring at a screen. According to the latest data from Ofcom, the average Briton spends 45 per cent of his time gazing at pixels, whether delivered via a TV, a phone or a computer. The youngest, and best at multi-tasking, can monitor so many data streams that they effectively squeeze five hours’ exposure into just two hours.

As Nicholas Carr argues in his latest book, The Shallows, all this is having a profound effect on our thought processes – what he found to be “the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain”. Every time we surf the web, he argues, we are literally rewiring our synapses, training them to skip from topic to topic and task to task rather than focusing on one solitary goal or thought. And we are powerfully rewarded for this behaviour, via the torrent of new insights and facts offered by sites such as Twitter or Facebook, or the simple chemical hit that comes from seeing the “new mail” message pop up.

Many writers have regarded this process as a relatively unmixed blessing, with Google and its ilk training us in high-speed cognition, not to mention giving us access to an enormous library of information that we no longer need to ferry around in our heads. Carr, however, is more sceptical. The brain, he points out, is not a computer, which can be filled up with a limited amount of data. The very act of remembering, of consideration, builds up the capacity to think deeply. We are, he fears, entering a superficial age, when the ability to devote attention to long and challenging thoughts will be lost.

He cites studies which show that we learn better and retain more when focusing solely on the words of an article or lecture, rather than being given the chance to access connected material at the same time.

Such worries, as Carr admits, are not new. Nietzsche found his prose style becoming harder and terser as he moved from pen to typewriter. Centuries before, Socrates lamented the damage that a move to the written word would do – it was, he argued, “a recipe not for memory, but for reminder”, for minds “filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom”.

This idea that, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “things are in the saddle / and ride mankind”, is an intriguing one, and Carr makes some interesting points, for example that the medieval transition from lingua continua (unpunctuated sentences of unbroken words, dictated to or read by a scribe) to our modern grammar created a kind of writing that was more personal, open and honest. He has some challenging ideas, too, about how written style will develop in the future, raising the dread prospect that authors will sculpt paragraphs and chapter headings to be “SEO-friendly” rather than rigorously accurate.

Yet it is hard to avoid the feeling that Carr is over-egging things – or rather, applying his worries too widely. For example, he tells us that the recent sustained global rise in IQ is evidence not of our becoming more intelligent, but of concentrating on different things. Why, then, should we worry about that rise tapering off? Isn’t it just a sign that the web is training our brains for different tasks? There is also the problem of format. If we are losing the ability to concentrate, asking us to trawl through a 224-page book feels like a heroically counter-productive way of addressing the problem. Indeed, to this reader at least, Carr’s argument felt stretched at this length – though he would no doubt blame that on my inadequate attention span.

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr, 276pp, Atlantic,£16.99 T £14.99 (PLUS £1.25 p&p)

Malik’s Concept of ‘Amal in the Light of Maliki Legal Theory by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah

One a number of occasions, some acquaintances and students have requested a copy of Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah’s thorough UofC PhD thesis on the concept of inherited practice (‘amal) in the light of Maliki legal theory (usul). Because I was once told that the work had been published, I withheld posting a pdf of the book temporarily. Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to get a hold of a published copy and can’t seem to find any such book at the more well-known online bookstore sites. I am beginning to doubt that any published form of the book even exists.

In any case, instead of waiting to obtain a copy, I have decided to suffice with what I have and upload the typewritten pdf version of his dissertation here. The copy I have is divided into eight files. If anyone has a more condensed version of the book, please do share.

Amal Madinah 1

Amal Madinah 2

Amal Madinah 3

Amal Madinah 4

Amal Madinah 5

Amal Madinah 6

Amal Madinah 7

Amal Madinah 8

Review: The Essentials of Jumu’a by Shaykh Ibrahim Madani

Reviewed by Bilal Ali

Author: Ibrahim Madani

Publisher: Madania Publications

Pages: 89   Binding: Paperback

The Essentials of Jumuʿa, Madania Publications’ first work, is a pleasant and welcome addition to a growing corpus of Islamic literature written in English and aimed at the Western reader. At first glance, the reader will appreciate the excellence of its print and language. This is not insignificant, as many books on Islamic studies in English, whether original or in translation, are frequently overshadowed by sometimes appallingly poor quality in both material and style. Essentials is one of a number of recent publications that work to break this unfortunate standard.

The book’s language is lucid and succinct, the content, well organized. It begins with the importance, linguistic background, and history of jumuʿa and ends with a concise but thorough discussion of its legal aspects. The author discusses the conditions for establishing jumuʿa, the effects and consequences of missing it, the special time on Friday when Allah guarantees acceptance of all supplications, and many other relevant and interesting facts every Muslim should know regarding this weekly holy day.

The book concludes with a chapter discussing important contemporary rulings, including the language of the khutbah, delivering a speech before the sermon, women’s leadership the prayer, and the permissibility of performing two congregations in one masjid.

While the book caters primarily to a Hanafi audience, the author, Shaykh Ibrahim Madani, does not fail to mention rulings of other legal schools when relevant. More important, the author includes proofs from the Quran and prophetic tradition for nearly every issue discussed in the book, making it of value to readers who adhere to any school.

When quoting from Hadith works and legal texts, however, the author provides citations, but limits their usefulness by failing to include a detailed bibliography at the end of the work. An upcoming edition would do well to have this addition, as well as some mention of the status of the hadiths quoted. The author could also improve upon translations of some terms. Nevertheless, n the whole, if the The Essentials of Jumuʿa is any indication, Madania Publications’ forthcoming works will be highly anticipated and well received by the English-speaking community.

al-Kawashif al-Jaliyyah ‘an Mustalahat al-Hanafiyyah by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ilah al-Mulla

The following treatise is a wonderfully brief but expansive work on the terminology of the Hanafi school of law. It began as an introduction to Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ilah’s (amongst the scholars of Ahsa’) doctorate on the first volume of ‘Allamah Siraj al-Din Ibn al-Nujaym’s al-Nahr al-Fa’iq and was later expanded upon to include more terms from those used by later scholars of the madhhab, including Ibn ‘Abidin and ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Laknawi.

The work draws heavily from two more recent excellent resources on the Hanafi school, Ahmad al-Naqib’s al-Madhhab al-Hanafi and Maryam Zafiri’s Mustalahat al-Madhahib al-Fiqhiyyah, both of which devote chapters to the topic of Hanafi terminology but are not separate works. One of the more obvious benefits of this work, al-Kawashif, is that it is short and concise (approximately 56 pages), and therefore an excellent resource for students. Additionally, it is easy to print from pdf.

The author, may Allah reward him, divides the terminology covered in the book into the following chapters:

1.Terms for the categories of ahkam taklifiyyah

2. Terms used for the imams and scholars of the madhhabs

3. Terms used for the books of the imams and scholars of the madhhabs

4. Terms used for the legal issues of the imams and scholars of the madhhabs

5. Terms used as ‘alamat in ifta’

6. Terms used for the status of certain opinions

We have provided the pdf of the book here.

Farqiyyat of Imam ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Muhaddith al-Dihlawi

I must confess that due to a number of preoccupations we have not been able to post anything in a while. That said, I would like to put the readers of this blog at ease and assure them that regular posting should soon resume, in sha Allah.

In order to facilitate the uploading process, not all posts will be accompanied with introductory text. Some posts will simply be uploads of books and details of the book or author will be updated at a later time.

We appreciate the du’as and participation of all of our readers and contributors and encourage them to continue their support.

The following book is a short text by Imam Shah ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Muhaddith al-Dihlawi, the author of two famous commentaries of the Mishkat and a soon-to-be published (in sha Allah) short prolegomena to the science of the terminology of hadith, on the differences between apparent synonyms in the Arabic language.

It is still in manuscript form, but as I suspect it will not be published for quite a while if ever, I thought it wise to post it here for your enjoyment. I stumbled across this text while researching Imam Dihlawi’s life for an introduction to the translation to his Muqaddamah fi Usul al-Hadith.

Farqiyat ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Dihlawi