Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Is Google Making Us Stupid? - The Atlantic (July/August 2008)

From Socrates and writing through Gutenberg and printing to Google and the Internet new technology has been changing the way we think, the way our minds work. Should we be worried and is Google really making us stupid?

If your too busy to click through and read a thoughtful and challenging article then this may be talking about you.

Is Google Making Us Stupid? - The Atlantic (July/August 2008)


The blogs reviews said...

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Nicholas Carr’s article. He says: ‘Once I was a Scuba Diver in the sea. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.’
Unlike a good book, which keeps us intrigued within the confinements of its covers, the internet is as vast as the ocean. And also unlike a book, it entices us to explore it, but, whether we do or not is always our prerogative. Our thirst for more knowledge is more the culprit here. This happened to me last night when I was reading on the net an article about Ayn Rand. At one point she mentioned Objectivism, which was highlighted, so I clicked on it and went on to discover its philosophy. In it was a quote from Ayn Rand denouncing all of our present woes to an Immanuel Kant—whose name was also highlighted. So, I clicked it to get better re-acquainted with Kant. By the time I returned to the original article, it was nearly one hour later and I gave up. While I could have stayed on the first article, I chose to enlighten myself. So now I know more about Objectivism and Immanuel Kant and less about Ayn Rand!

Mike Tea said...

Thanks for reading the post and for your comment. I certainly agree that the benefits of the Internet are considerable and I think Nicholas Carr does acknowledge that. I do think the question posed is deliberately provocative and meant to make us think about the process rather than just sit back and let it happen.

I liked the examples of Socrates and his antipathy to writing and Nietzsche and his typewriter. Both illustrate that developments in technology subtly change the way our minds work but the question is, are we happy with those changes? Do we understand them?

Socrates had a point when arguing that writing robbed ideas of immediacy and context and could make readers lazy in memory and reflection. But who would be without writing today? We have adjusted.

Scholars who objected to printing, saying that it made ideas ubiquitous and devalued them by their very commonality had a point. Yet, as I look around my study, I cannot imagine being without the printed word. We have adapted and, while some people do injury to philosophical thought, skimming the surface, the world is a better place generally for books.

The same process is being highlighted in the article it seems to me. Are we adapting in a good way or is the advent of the Internet making us so lazy that we think only in sound bites? I know from personal experience that the Internet can be, and is used in the way you describe, but is there something inherent in the speed and process of reading books that is all too easily missed as we surf and read?

Drawing a trajectory from Socrates to Sergey Brin and Larry Page are we seeing a diminution of thought from carefully argued ideas through the aphorisms identified by Neitzsche's friend to the sound bites of the Internet world?

I liked the quote from Richard Foreman:

"I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the 'instantly available.'"

My daughter-in-law refers to her library as her "second brain" and I can see her point. But is a brain just a depository for facts and data and can that function now be outsourced to your online connections? Or is your brain much more than what it holds, rather somewhere you reflect on what you know and learn, and where reason things through, much as Socrates would have done? In which case, does Google help or hinder that thinking process?