Here is a blog post from Matt Cardin in which he responds to an article from The Atlantic (Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr). I agree that the internet alters cognitive functioning, but I don’t see this as problematic. I’m old enough to have grown up reading books. I didn’t even become all that involved with computers until my late 20s. I now spend much time on the internet and it has changed how I think, but it hasn’t made me think any less deeply. In fact, it has caused my thinking process to be even more complex.
I could see how some people might have a different experience. I suspect my brain is particularly suited for internet in two ways. I naturally think in non-linear connections. Also, I remember facts in terms of connections… meaning my rote memory absolutely sucks. The internet helps my mind to operate optimally. However, for someone with a more linear focused mind (or someone who is easily distracted and for some silly reason wishes to be more productive), the internet might be the bane of their existence.
For me, the internet hasn’t fundamentally altered my behavior in reading books (other than allowing me to discover new books I’d never have known about otherwise). But I do sometimes find myself oddly trying to use an imaginary cursor to click on printed text (it doesn’t work). Fortunately, I have an electronic dictionary that helps me at such times (interestingly, my looking up words has increased immensely since buying this electronic dictionary). Anyhow, I spend as much time reading text in printed form as I do reading text on a screen. Maybe I’m lucky. I have a job that allows me the time to read books (while disallowing me to get on the internet). And I have a friend who likes to sit around reading books when we hang out.
To me, books and the internet are complementary. I just love information and language, and it doesn’t matter to me about the format. I can skim information very quickly across multiple websites and I can sit for hours reading a massive book. Both are useful and enjoyable.
Anyways, it is rather ironic that people discuss on the internet such issues as the problems of the internet. There is Carr’s article that hyperlinked to several other articles, blogs, and a research paper. Matt Cardin (along with probably hundreds or thousands of others) hyperlinked to the article through blogs, articles, discussion boards, and emails. And Cardin also hyperlinked to another article thus creating a conceptual link that his readers could follow (which has greater impact than a footnote in a printed text). Other bloggers (such as my self and Quentin S. Crisp) then link to the writings of those who linked to the article. So, a world-wide discussion grows into a complex web of ideas and related discussions. Without the internet (including the wonders of Google), such far-reaching discussions of cultural import simply wouldn’t happen. In the past, people were mostly just passive receivers of information. But now such information has become interactive. I’d guess this increases the intelligence of the average reader.
I consider Carr’s article to be nonsense with a catchy title. For God’s sake, there is even a Wikipedia article about it (which by the way is longer and more edifying than the article itself and which I found through a Google search). Here is a quote that supports the conclusion I came to in the previous paragraph:
Carr’s essay was widely discussed in the media both critically and in passing. While English technology writer Bill Thompson observed that Carr’s argument had “succeeded in provoking a wide-ranging debate”, Damon Darlin of The New York Times quipped that even though “[everyone] has been talking about [the] article in The Atlantic magazine”, only “[s]ome subset of that group has actually read the 4,175-word article, by Nicholas Carr.” The controversial online responses to Carr’s essay were, according to Chicago Tribune critic Steve Johnson, partly the outcome of the essay’s title “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, a question that the article proper doesn’t actually pose and that he believed was “perfect fodder for a ‘don’t-be-ridiculous’ blog post”; Johnson challenged his readers to carefully consider their online responses in the interest of raising the quality of debate.
Many critics discussed the merits of Carr’s essay at great length in forums set up formally for this purpose at online hubs such as the Britannica Blog and publisher John Brockman’s online scientific magazine Edge, where the roster of names quickly took on the semblance of a Who’s Who of the day’s Internet critics. Calling it “the great digital literacy debate”, British-American entrepreneur and author Andrew Keen judged the victor to be the American reader, who was blessed with a wide range of compelling writing from “all of America’s most articulate Internet luminaries”.
I’ve criticized Google some recently because of biases in it’s search results, but overall I’ve been satisfied with it as a tool for gathering information… although I no longer use it as my sole search engine. I’m of the opinion that search engines in general are just awesome. I sometimes even end up perusing online books I already own (such as with Google books) because I can search the books quickly and find exactly what I’m looking for. I would say that if you’re feeling a bit stupid don’t blame Google.