840   Individual paper

The Journalist as Philosopher of Technology: Nicholas Carr as Case Study

Author: Declan Fahy
Dublin City University, Ireland

This paper argues that American journalist and author Nicholas Carr has had an influential, but sometimes overlooked, role in contemporary communications about the social implications of technology. With his Pulitzer Prize-nominated book, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010), Carr put forward an influential framework for understanding the impact of digital technologies on individual behaviour and cognition. And with his other books including The Big Switch (2008), The Glass Cage (2014), and Utopia Is Creepy (2016), he presented a strongly critical view of the impact of digital technologies on the intellectual formation of individuals and the collective richness of culture. These and other writings have made him an early and lastingly influential critic of the naïve technological utopianism that had emerged from Silicon Valley over the past several decades. This paper presents Carr as a case of a journalist who has been able to undertake such a culturally-important role because of his deep and ongoing engagement with scholarly ideas. His work is marked by a rich integration of ideas from the history and philosophy of technology, the economics and infrastructure of digital technologies, and media theory. Carr has integrated these ideas into a distinct perspective that established him as what The New Atlantis called “a philosopher of technology.” To show how and why he came to occupy this role, this paper takes a historical approach, combining a close reading of his works, interview evidence with Carr, and a rich contextualisation of his ideas within modern technoscientific culture.

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