This Is Your Brain On Google

It seems Google is making us all stupid. Or so says Nicholas Carr in the July/August issue of the Atlantic.

For all you “power browsers,” Carr’s point seems to be that the internet is “chipping away [his] capacity for concentration and contemplation” because he now “expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it” as opposed to long, complicated prose as is often found in books.

Shortly after this article was published, James Bowman published an article in the Summer 2008 edition of the New Atlantis Journal of Technology and Society, in which he echoed some of Carr’s sentiments while moving to what he deemed to be an even bigger issue: We have come to despise our history as ignorant and archaic, thus the reason we are no longer interested reading in the traditional sense—especially the classics.

“[Carr’s article] show[s] that it is our children and grandchildren who are preceding us in stupidity. But once that process is complete, presumably we won’t care any more that culture and tradition are not being transmitted to the next generation.”

I thought Bowman’s point was well made and it does a lot to explain our current political climate. Of course, this also points out our western view of time as linear: We despise the past because we feel so far advanced away from it. I also agree (with Carr) that there are many who seem unable to think deeply about some issues. This has always been a problem (just read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13).

However, the assumption made in both articles (although admittedly more from Bowman than Carr) seems to be that learning is primarily a matter of linear, sequential, conclusive pathfinding through printed materials. Of course, this method of discovery only accounts for about 400 or so years of history. Before print, learning was primarily oral and dialectic. Since then, learning has shifted to a focus on journey and perspective conclusion and now seems to be moving more towards collaborative, systemic conclusions. In that regard, I would say that Google is probably not making us stupid, but it is making us different, just as print made the oral culture different. I also tend to believe that it is our hunger and thirst for information that drives our love of Google (a desire which, by the way, has been around since the Garden of Eden). Suddenly, we can do a lot more than read Huck Finn, we can Google it and find a kazillion sites that analyze, dissect and reconstruct Huck in a plethora of ways—possibly even making the classics more interesting than ever before.

Honestly, I read more books now than I ever did before I had heard of the internet. I do read “differently” online, but it’s partially because I don’t LIKE reading online…it hurts my aging eyes.

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About Eric Wilbanks

Brand strategist. Wordsmith. Change architect. Training specialist. DiSC Certified. Family guy (hot wife and 4 cool kids). Love my Bible, guitars, baseball, and MMA.


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