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What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Ralph welcomes Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” who argues that despite it being a vast storehouse of knowledge, the internet could be turning us into superficial thinkers. Also, NY Times opinion writer, Justin Gillis, along with the executive director of the Energy Policy Institute, David Pomerantz report on the scandal of fossil fuel and nuclear companies bribing state politicians.

Nicholas Carr is a writer whose work focuses on the intersection of technology, economics, and culture. He is a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. Since 2005, he has written the popular blog “Rough Type”. In 2015, he received the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association. His books include the 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. A second edition of The Shallows was published in 2020, with a new afterword.

“People are either using their phones, thinking about using their phones or suppressing the desire to think about using their phone. And all of those things capture some part, and probably a major part, of the limited attention we have.”

Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

Justin Gillis is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He is a consultant and author working on a book about how to solve global warming. Mr. Gillis is the author of a Times series called “Temperature Rising” that updated readers on major developments in climate science. He is also the author of a series published in 2014 called “The Big Fix” that critically examined proposed solutions to climate change.

“These are monopolies. Electricity is a basic necessary service for everyone in America at this point. You can’t operate without it. And if you don’t like what your utility is doing politically, you have no choice to go to another utility. So we’re essentially being taxed some small number of pennies on our electric bill and our gas bills every month, which are going to pay for the lobbyists and the campaign contributions and the schemes that these companies are running to essentially undermine our democracy in the name of their own profits.”

Justin Gillis, opinion writer for The New York Times

David Pomerantz is a former reporter and the executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute. Prior to this job, Mr. Pomerantz spent eight years working with Greenpeace to move the electric sector away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. He also helped lead Greenpeace’s work on coal-related issues in 2010 and 2011 and worked with communities in Ohio and New England in 2008 and 2009 to push members of Congress to support climate change and toxic chemical legislation.

David Pomerantz, Executive Directive of the Energy and Policy Institute

I think people have not put two and two together and fully realized the degree to which the utilities are skewing our politics all over the country.”


“If consumers don’t demand a say they’ll pay, pay and pay.”

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader Radio Hour Ep 335 Transcript (Right click to download)


  1. Bruce K. says:

    This might be the most important subject on the RNRH, or any other show or periodical article. How we handle or fail to handle the technological massive power of high speed aspect of social manipulations is going to determine how human life on planet Earth is going to be for the foreseeable future, if not forever for cast segments of the population. Let’s not kid ourselves, it has already led us to the brink of dictatorship in the American government.

    We are staring at possibly hundreds of years of a technological dark age thanks to the subversion of internet technology with neuroscience and advanced mathematics – all mixed with secrecy and the worst aspects of human behavior – and the co-opting and manipulation of people with money. Current governments and systems have no way to understand or deal with these attacks from inside a country, and often from the rich and powerful people. People are ending this discussion talking about free speech being absolute so that is all we need to know, and that is not going to do it. We must find a system that puts a disable on human greed and power-grabbing or we are just dead meat, along with the planet.

    I hypothesize that there is only one path for survival to deal with the abuse of these technologies against massive numbers of people – which could be anyone, and that is to find a way to short circuit to ground the ability for people to behave greed and lust for power and control. We have to learn to cooperate and think of each other and judge people by that – not how much money and power they have. Something that any great religion has been telling us since before the dawn of time that we always ignore because it can always be overridden by power and money.

    The human mind can defeat any limited logical system, so the bottom line is we must keep track of who is doing what and why and for what reason. The global stock market is capable of being manipulated, governments, marginal populations of voters, and through the manipulation of information. There is nothing safe – and the threats are broader and greater every day.

    Today the “American Intelligence Services” came out and said the 2020 election was being manipulated by Russia and China. Think back about every time our Intelligence Services have made public statements and what their purposes have been – and how often have they offered proof or an explanation? Are countries today only as powerful as whatever they can sway and manipulate their people to believe and do? We found out that radical Islam in Afghanistan in the Taliban was a low-tech version of what the high-tech systems can do by manipulation people, cutting them off from information, making them depressed, isolated, feeling like the state, or the religion represents God or the universe or right and wrong. Before 9-11 groups all over the world were finding out about this. No one is speaking about social networking in the advanced technological world today. Why not? And even if they speak of it, there is no scientific or historical data given. No names named, no fingers pointed.

    The only way you can be immunized from these tricks are to know in advance what they are, and our intelligence services are not telling us anything. Do they not want us to be immune? Do they want our own oligarchs to be able to manipulate us and blame it on the Russians or Chinese?

    In the 50’s we had a crash program to educate the American people in technology. Then we had the 60’s and thought better of it and have been dumbing our population down – except or the children of the oligarchs who can afford health care and education. That is what the oligarchs want. And each generation of oligarchs is more isolated, less decent and more hateful – take a listen to DJT Jr. Look at how Trump handles COVID-19 … like we are cattle … it is what it is, people will die, but Wall St. must continue.

    We must find out where this information is going. Who is analyzing it. Far from being a classified secret these technologies must be made understandable to Americans so that we can design safeguards into our system to avoid complete collapse and takeover. Our pitiful media and publishing industry is not going to do this. The subject is so vast it is hard to discuss, especially to people without an understanding of tech, and I would say without an understanding of the lack of morality and respect for others in most tech leaders and managers. They are pigs.

    These people have access to so much power and technologies of all kinds from how to poll and focus group so that they do not say anything to concern people to how to manipulate the whole government. We simply cannot afford as a world to have people with so much power, technology and a corner on information. It must be stopped.

    • Mark Hughes says:

      “We are staring at possibly hundreds of years of a technological dark age thanks to the subversion of internet technology with neuroscience and advanced mathematics – all mixed with secrecy and the worst aspects of human behavior – and the co-opting and manipulation of people with money. Current governments and systems have no way to understand or deal with these attacks from inside a country, and often from the rich and powerful people. People are ending this discussion talking about free speech being absolute so that is all we need to know, and that is not going to do it. We must find a system that puts a disable on human greed and power-grabbing or we are just dead meat, along with the planet.”

      This particular paragraph of yours jumped out at me. What struck me is just how much Artificial Intelligence has seized hold of technology today, and it’ll only get stronger (viz; worse) to the point of leading us head-first into a sci-fi dystopia.

      Right now Silicon Valley continues to expand technology to unforeseen levels. This is pretty much common knowledge. With AI, it takes on an acute intensity. Because as AI grows, it acquires something called Machine Learning, which basically means a particular machine or device becomes self-learning. The computer programmer or coder can back away from the desk permanently and the program he or she was once coding can now write itself (which completely skewers job market ‘experts’ when they tell people to go learn coding, that won’t be needed much longer).

      Even one of AI’s early goals was Machine Learning, and that’s taking off today. From my limited knowledge, it seems right now that AI is currently ‘reading’ all documentation out there and is in the process of learning. it can’t write narratives per se like journalists and other writers can, but it can read and on some level, comprehend. But once it learns all it needs to know, then what? It becomes AGI (Artificial General Intelligence, aka Strong AI or Full AI). Scary thought.

      Former Wall Street stockbroker and Bitcoin enthusiast Max Keiser has stated every so often that Wall Street stocks are traded and exchanged not so much by individuals, but instead by algorithms that have been programmed to make trades in nanoseconds, less than the blink of an eye, and they’re so rapid that humans can no longer keep track of ‘the markets’ consistently. It’s just too quick. If this is the case, and I have no reason to doubt Keiser, then wealth creation, if you want to call it that, has left the hands of humans, which in turn may signal the beginning of the end for the rich.

      So AI will get out of control even to the rich, theoretically at least. In a fairly recent interview on The Hill’s ‘Rising’, Matt Stoller said that Jeff Bezos’ statement that while Amazon has policies to prevent the theft of product information from its vendors in order to prevent it from making competing and cheaper versions, there’s no way to police it fully (which is why it’s so rampant), this told Stoller that Amazon has grown to a size that can’t even be controlled by its multi-billion-dollar founder. If that’s the case, why would AI be any different? Why wouldn’t AI become sentient, grow a consciousness, and thereby become inherently dangerous to the human race?

      I realize this sounds like a Skynet or Cylon kind of sci-fi, but the technology seems to be in actual existence and growing.

      • Bruce K. says:

        We are definitely thinking in parallel terms.

        >> Because as AI grows, it acquires something called Machine Learning, which basically means a particular machine or device becomes self-learning.

        AI is a boogie man to offload responsibility of these companies and their programmers and the manipulators in the background setting agendas. Can it just a coincidence that all of the AI “learning” seems to marginalize the poor and benefit the rich?

        AI cannot think, it cannot learn in any sense we have of people learning. AI does not understand context or nuance. AI CAN be programmed to collect data in an organized way and search for certain statistical anomalies that can then be fed to policy makers to refine their business.

        Another side of this is who these companies let into their ranks and make privy to the secrets of what they are really doing. I see people get decimated over time who express any comments or ideas that are or can be considered Left of center. This is the same as only giving jobs and means of sustenance to those who toe the line to different degrees.

        >> But once it learns all it needs to know, then what? It becomes AGI (Artificial General Intelligence, aka Strong AI or Full AI). Scary thought.

        That “magical lightning strike” is the thing of movies and science fiction, and of course hucksters like Elon Musk or Ray Kurzweil. That so few really understand this deeply is a flaw in our democracy that prevents us from seeing the weapons that are aimed at us.

        >> Former Wall Street stockbroker and Bitcoin enthusiast Max Keiser

        Arghhh! noooooo! Not Max Keiser. 😉 Seriously, Max is right, but that doesn’t take AI, it just take speed and a clever angle … inside knowledge of the system. That comes from a human being. But as Ralph says, where do it go? We have to realize that money itself is just an abstract manipulation, so the desired change would be, some king of central democratic authority on money, spending and taxing – and I don’t mean Donald Trump. What the House should have evolved into if our system were not frozen in the 18th century. I’m just finding out about MMT, Money Monetary Theory and that seems to fit the bill in a way. For 100 years we have had parasites on the legitimate military industrial complex deciding what our money system is going to be and do and it has evolved, metastasized into a very bad thing.

  2. Bruce K. says:

    I really admired how Ralph kept hammering on doing something. What are the recommendations? Where are the anthropologists? Why do they keep leaving the readers hanging? And on and on. But almost all books I read do this now, and not only that but the whole book publishing industry is out to trick me and take my money because they do not put out many if any new ideas or strategies … they do the same thing as the Internet … pander for clicks.

    The book industry sells books. They sell the same book by a different author, all saying the same thing, all leaving the reader hanging. Same book, a new book 10 years later that says the same thing. The authors never compare notes or work together or use their expertise to act as intermediaries to the experts where they get their information. I am an IT engineer and I have been looking around for something to break on these Internet troll farms, or how Russia is manipulating social media, or is it really the Republicans doing the dirty tricks – as it usually is.

    As inequality gets worse, competition worsens, cheating becomes rampant, social isolation sets in, friendships become transactions, who whole world changes.

    I took a class in process improvement and implementation and project management, and to get something done one must follow some very specific rules, and one of the hardest is to convince people to change their behavior.

    What needs to happen is the world must be made comforting and supportive to people – measurably, and when those milestones are not met, like an employee in a business they must be questioned and if metrics do not improve, replaced. One problem is that the people who write these little books go deep into one subject and do not look at or explain the whole picture.

    Meanwhile the Conservative thing tanks have been putting together plans and strategies and nurturing their little Hitlers to grow up and take their places on the lecture circuits, book authoring, government, lobbying, of TV hosts —- for decades or more.

    This is never explained to the unwary citizen … and even the best-selling books sell maybe a million copies which means that maybe 0.3% of Americans ever read these books, and so what good do these books do? What good is the non-fiction books industry do. Increasingly text books are hugely expensive, and they do not teach what they purport to teach or explain. We have a vicious cycle of political contraction because a few people can co-opt the votes of many ignorant cattle. ( who says democracy works anyway? … and under what circumstances )

    A lot of these concepts become almost intuitive if one knows some higher mathematics but math and science are considered dangerous in the hands of the common people. Ref Bill Joy’s article a long time ago “The Futures Doesn’t Need Us”. Maybe you should nail Bill Joy in an interview if he is still out there.

  3. Mark Hughes says:

    Carr is so correct, as a parent it is indeed very hard to keep your kid off devices because you risk alienating them from their friends. That’s become especially true today considering we are in the midst of a pandemic & we should be keeping our distance from each other, in some cases keeping away from others altogether depending on our age, health conditions, the culture you’re in (come to the south, relatively few people care about wearing masks and being sensible), etc, and that kids can have Covid-19 & transmit without showing symptoms. It’s not an easy call at all – it’s as if the only ‘good’ call is one that can have a seriously adverse effect on your kids’ social development.

    I have no problem teaching kids computers at an early age. Problem is teaching it in the broader social context and doing so responsibly. Compounding that is adults (i.e., parents & teachers alike) are just as addicted to social media as many of their kids so they have no way of teaching responsible usage. And I haven’t even mentioned the pressure from employers onto these kids’ parents, something Carr mentioned. The pressure from employers to stay connected all the time is absolutely crucial.

    I don’t know the responsible way to teach computers and devices. Social technology has become so rooted in our culture that I’m not sure, outside of a permanent, global collapse of the world wide web, how it can be uprooted. Getting anthropologists on board, something mentioned in the podcast, is an incredibly great idea. Perhaps the RNRH should consider getting one on the show and talking about this topic.

    • Bruce K. says:

      >> Getting anthropologists on board, something mentioned in the podcast, is an incredibly great idea. Perhaps the RNRH should consider getting one on the show and talking about this topic.

      Great idea, I second the motion.

  4. Don Harris says:

    The internet and social media are tools used to exploit and manipulate people just as the money the big money interests are a tool used to manipulate citizens and politicians as described in the second segment.

    They are also tools citizens can use to fight back.

    You asked “Who will pick up the cudgel?”
    It’s up to you.

    Since 2015 I have been trying to get you to address a way for citizens to utilize another tool citizens can use (our votes) in conjunction with the other tools already mentioned to counteract the slush funds used by the big money interests with a slush fund of small donor money for candidates to bribe politiicians with our money and VOTES.

    On the 10-24-2018 Washington Journal you said you would have me on your Radio Hour to discuss this idea. You have not yet fit me into your schedule or explained why you haven’t.

    “To know and not to do is not to know.”

    Nicholas Carr said citizens need to change their behavior and demand certain actions.

    You often say we need citizen groups to demand actions.

    This is a proposal for just such a citizen’s group to demand that politicians take action by running small donor only campaigns in order to earn our votes.

    Despite the many proposals you have offered listeners to get the big money out of politics, they all seem to suffer the same fatal flaw. They depend on legislation.

    While there are many problems that must be solved through legislation these problems cannot be solved through legislation until we first get the big money out of politics. It is the major obstacle to available solutions being addressed through legislation (such as the War on Habitat) and the reason getting big money out of politics cannot be solved through legislation.

    When the big money legislators pass legislation it is designed to benefit the big money interests as demonstrated in the second segment. The big money interest have no interest in getting the big money out of politics.

    In order to pass legislation to get the big money out of politics we first have to replace the big money legislators with small donor only legislators. The problem has to be solved before legislation can be passed to solve the problem.

    Even though most people advocating legislation (including Constitutional amendments) do not realize they are doing it, they are creating a distraction and preventing change from happening with calls for future legislation that will never be passed rather than take action now of demanding that politicians take action now by running small donor only campaigns to earn our votes with action now instead of promises of future action through legislation.

    • Bruce K. says:

      >> Nicholas Carr said citizens need to change their behavior and demand certain actions.

      The Left needs business defectors with project management and process improvement skills to bring about change that is within the possible, and cut out the things that just put people off.

      There is no agreement because that is the way the media and status quo wants it – needs it.

      The Right is succeeding past all expectations and it looks like they have the whole country wrapped up because they are financed and managed by smart people who they co-opt with vast amounts of money they squeeze from the people – further weakening the people and leaving them with no power but the power of the tantrum – break windows and set fires – and they usually do not even do that – it is outside provocateurs.

      Dark Money, Democracy in Chains, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, The Wrecking Crew … on an on … the information is out there, in book form that no one can afford the time and money to read – and if you can, to really compile a salient view of the world you have to read a lot of books. Then you have to connect with other people – something the “Russians” ( hahaha ) really know how to divide us up for doing. Never mind why the the Republicans have thousands of times the motivation to do it that the Russians do. The Russians can only benefit by the USA becoming more stable and democratic. Both ruling classes need each other to promote fear, while meanwhile the world burns.

      They have found their common goal, invested in and built power infrastructure for God knows how long – maybe as much as a century, but technology and consumerism has made it so much easier. How come the people have to fight so hard and the information that was known at lest 20 years ago is just now filtering into their brains just to have the chance to elect and invest all of our hopes in … of all people, Joe Biden.

  5. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    Children shouldn’t be anywhere near social media and if they have to use it they should be afforded anonymity. All children of the 21st century need to be given The Talk by their parents before they ever touch internet devices and it’s very simple: What you post over the internet stays around forever. The internet never forgets! If we enter a dystopian world that Ralph and Fellmeth envision where everything anyone says ever is recorded with their name next to it for posterity so it can come back later to hurt them, we will see many more young people’s lives ruined by the simple act of being young and ignorant. It will be a world of conformity, of limited critical exchange, of people afraid of being wrong or saying something that others would remember decades later and shame them over.

    On the subject of power utilities, wind and solar require massive subsidies to survive too. You cannot make the market-idolizing competition argument against nuclear without also prejudicing renewables in favor of dirty sources like gas and coal, which are and will continue to be the cheapest energy sources. The market has demonstrated to be an abysmal failure in delivering energy sources that are good for society because it treats “externalities” as someone else’s problem. Please give up on this line of reasoning, it’s inconsistent and a bad argument. Power utilities should be public, nationalize them and end their racket.

    • Bruce K. says:

      > and if they have to use it they should be afforded anonymity.

      What children have in innocence, adults have in potential political power and the loss of both or either is damaging to society

      … everyone should be afforded the ability to speak or question ANONYMOUSLY in a orderly way without the ability of trolls or those who would ruin social mediation for their own or other people’s purposes. One must question the logic and motives of anyone who campaigns otherwise. The arguments against anonymous political participation basically amount to complaining about trolls —

      — but for that argument to hold a drop of water it would have to proven that the trolls are not organized by a group or groups of foreign or domestic “insurgents”, similar to what has been used in the Middle East to fracture societies.

      What is the fight for Internet privacy worth without anonymous communications? Nothing.

      What is needed is the programming to minimize of marginalize comments that are dishonest – and not using AI because AI cannot detect nuance and is so easily subverted.

      What is needed is the ability to identify proven bad actors, NOT to assume automatically everyone is a bad actor.

  6. margaret walsh says:


    this not our first lifetime…
    like texting..
    we share a lot while we spare our bodies..
    the physicality of speaking/listening..

    we use our bodies for concise movement..
    say..we like to swim..

    many understand the value of wi-fi messaging..

    then we swim..

    the juxtaposItion of 2 words..


    has brought in a lot of super-evolved souls..

    they chose to come back..

    they fly past decorum..

    and we all evolve ..UP UP UP…

    agree..we lose our bodies if we don’t get out of bed..
    or off screen..

    thank you for your consideration..

    from camplunalinda..

  7. margaret walsh says:

    thanks for re-visitng THE LINCOLN PROJECT..