By: Emily Dilworth
This blog post references the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” by Nicholas Carr. It was first published in the July/August 2008 Issue of The Atlantic. Read the original article here.
In a class I took on the history of the book this past semester, my professor had us read an article about how the internet is impacting our ability to process information called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. The gripping theory Carr lays out in the article is still haunting me, and I think about it often as I’m scrolling through the good old world wide web.
Carr begins the article with a reference to the film 2001, where people act like machines and machines act like people. Back when it was made, the film was seen as a potential prophecy of the future. But unlike many sci-fi films of that era, 2001 has proven to be a pretty accurate portrayal.
Carr offers ample evidence from multiple sources about how the internet is basically turning our brains into artificially-intelligent mush. He states that because of the way our brains are becoming accustomed to the modern search engine, we are actually unlearning the art of individualistic and deep thinking. He reflects on his own struggles with keeping his attention on the page.
He also admits that for himself and many others, “the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind”. Carr explains that our brains, because they’re so malleable even as adults, have begun to mimic the same processes as the artificial algorithms that sites like Google have developed to draw our attention into the Web and convince us to jump from page to page relatively quickly.
Carr states that “thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self”. As he explains, it is companies such as Google who are intentionally programming the web to have us drift from one site to the next, allowing our brains to “put “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else”, which he says “may be weakening our capacity for deep reading” that was developed with the invention of the printing press.
Constant use of the internet is basically breaking down our cognitive processes from the root. Carr states that while we’re still “reading”, so to speak, “our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged”.
I think what haunts me most about this article is the fact that it was written back in 2008. 11 years later, and we’ve made huge advancements in the way we communicate on the web. I can’t help but think about the fact that we’ve also fallen so much deeper into the black whole of modern technology.
As a 20-year-old, I haven’t experienced nearly as drastic of a change as my parents, who are in their 40s, but I can still vividly remember a time when the only screen in my house was a giant, boxy TV with 12 channels. I grew up in the midst of all the buzz about the first iPhone, the invention of Netflix, and the origin of the Tweet. I can clearly recall both a world with these things and a world without, and I’ve experienced first-hand the phenomena that Carr details in his article.
So how do we stop this fast-moving train barreling right towards us? I’m not sure. But I’m going to start by putting my phone down and picking up a real, paper book whenever I can. We may not be able to stop the inevitable, but I’ll try my hardest to slow it down.