Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That’s what a writer for The Atlantic suspects is happening due to our increasing dependence on the web for information gathering.

And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

A phenomena he says many of his friends, “literary types, most of them”, have also noticed recently.

A British study seems to back them up.

It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

He goes on to discuss how the integration of other new communications technology have affected reading and writing in the past as well as expanding on the idea that electronic communications is working to “scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration”.

It’s an interesting argument but wasn’t MTV supposed to have done that twenty years ago? Someone probably made similar complaints about the spread of radio.

However, I wonder if what he describes is so bad.

After all, one primary purpose of reading, at least when it comes to non-fiction, is to gather and process information. If we can learn to do that with a “Jet Ski” instead of a row boat, that should be a good thing, right?

But I also don’t necessarily share the writer’s reverence for books. Most of them, like most good music albums, are often padded with extraneous or repetitive information.

Possibly one thing working on the web has taught me is how to bounce through those books to find the good stuff faster.

Of course, the bottom line in all this is that the web and Google are just tools, like any other created by man through the century.

They change the way we accomplish tasks, sometimes in good ways, sometimes not.

And people will view the changes differently.

5 thoughts on “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

  • June 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm
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    I read just as much now as before the internet became part of my life. Now instead of having to pack up and head to the library, then request what I need through interlibrary loan, finally waiting days or weeks for th book, I can get on line and find the information. When I still need/want the book – I can request it on line from the library and only make one trip.

    I still read for pleasure. I probably won’t replace those books with something like the Kindle. I like curling up with a book – the physical feel of the book is important. Now I have started using more and more audio books.

    I would love to replace my teaching books with a Kindle type device. To have all of them right there in my backpack to use and reference.

  • June 16, 2008 at 9:27 pm
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    Great post – As soon as I thought, “who cares if someone power browses if they get what they need?” – you wrote it! I love books – I love reading – I love curling up with a text. But I also love being able to search quickly for just the info I need, just when I need it. And being able to do the latter has hardly rendered me incapable of “concentration and contemplation.” If the writer from The Atlantic wants to blame something for his loss of that ability, he needs to look in the mirror, not at the computer screen, for who’s to blame.

  • Pingback: Internet: The Dumb-Maker « On the Tenure Track

  • June 18, 2008 at 6:56 pm
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    I just posted something about this entry. I’d have added a trackback, but I couldn’t find the link.

  • June 18, 2008 at 9:24 pm
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    Benjamin: WordPress, the software that runs both our blogs, can be set to automatically send a trackback/ping to sites you link to in a post. That setting was probably turned on by default since it sent an excerpt to the comments for this post.

    However, to minimize spam, my settings say to hold comments unless either the name and email form is filled out (not possible with a ping) or the author (your IP address) has been approved before. Hopefully, anything in the future will get posted immediately.

    Thanks for the comment and for the link.

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