Thursday, October 02, 2008

[Reaction] Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is Google Making Us Stupid? is a fantastic article, written by Nicholas Carr, whose central premise is that our technologies change us, often in ways we can neither anticipate nor control. In particular, with the advent internet and Google which provide massive amounts of information on demand have reduced our capacity to think and read deeply. The net distributes information swiftly and so the brain comes to expect information via this way. Hence the capacity to read deeply diminishes in favor of strict utilitarian efficiency.

One of the most important points is that many people who have traditionally been big book readers are now finding it difficult to get through books because of the way we have become accustomed to reading on the Internet. I consider myself a big book reader and I too have found it to be increasingly difficult to read books; so if it is this difficult for me, it must be infinitely more difficult, perhaps nigh on impossible, for the layman to read books nowadays.

Another point that Carr makes is that anytime there has been an evolution in the way we think, there have been tradeoffs. In ancient times, Socrates railed against writing because it diminished one’s capacity to remember and gain wisdom. With the advent of the printing press, the value of books decreased in favor of mass distribution and what used to be the abode of the few now gained mass consumption. The typewriter, as shown by the example of Friedrich Nietzsche, made his writing style more utilitarian. With the advent of the computer and word processor, the entire way we write has changed.

I think that the overall point Carr is making is that the internet is a mixed blessing. Yes it is great to get massive amounts of information at the click of your fingertips but sometimes this information doesn’t provide enough necessary depth and insight. Thus the internet often lacks both the need and capacity for deep contemplation. The point he makes about Frederick Winslow Taylor is excellent in that the maximization of efficiency in factory production inevitably turned workers into automatons. Similarly, I have come to notice that anytime I have an intellectual discussion with someone, I often hear parroted back to me arguments that I have either already or heard or read somewhere on the internet. The need to create new lines of argument supported by facts is, more often than not, too cumbersome of an activity for most people to do and hence most discussions have become echo chambers for the discourse that is going on in the Internet. This is troubling and I think the example of HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is a very telling indicator of how we, as a society, are losing many aspects of what makes us human in favor of quick and immediate gratification.

All that being said, I think (rather ironically) that I will not have the time to read the book that this article was adapted from: The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. Still, definitely read the article Is Google Making Us Stupid?

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