Is Google Making Us Stupid?

There was a recent interesting article in The Atlantic about the web and the impact it may be having on the way we read. Asking “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” the author, Nicholas Carr, is not some mindless Luddite saying the web is always bad, but he says he can see within himself that he is spending less time doing “deep reading” with books and more time with short pieces of information that he gets from the web. He wonders if our brains could be changing because we are all processing shorter pieces of information. He talks about how technology–the printing press, the typewriter, even mechanical clocks–changed our ways of thinking.

It would be interesting if faculty who have taught over time see this change happening in students–or in themselves as readers. I see it in myself sometimes. I have to consciously choose to stop being on the web and sit and read without distractions. I wonder if students who grew up with the web as part of their lives see any validity in the distinction between “deep reading” and web reading?

13 thoughts on “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

  1. Before I start rambling, I’ll note that my conscience feels way better after posting, haha, since I hadn’t read the article yet and so I didn’t feel authorized to talk in class!

    Anyway… I know firsthand what it’s like to be “dumbed down” by Internet. Until high school, my parents were both thrifty and old-fashioned and didn’t let me use Internet. When I was freshman, we got dial-up. Then, when i was a junior, we got high-speed internet. This changed everything.

    For one, I find reading complex/lengthy books much harder than when I was in, say, middle school. All the long novels I’ve read recently I’ve been forced to read for high school classes. Sad, I know, and I’m trying to change this.

    My attention span and, to some degree, even my critical thinking skills seem to have gone down. I used to have the patience to spend time figuring out long math problems, or to think hard about some philosophical question and write essays about it. No longer. If I can’t figure it out in a couple of minutes, I’m usually done with it. VERY bad thing!

    I think this is because the Internet and other forms of modern media feed us information–and not just information, but already-consumed, pre-processed info, so that we really don’t have to think much about anything, since we can look it all up online. This may also be one of the reasons why many people are so gullible and ready to believe some Obama-rumor they read on a blog or cobbled-together website they saw.

    My sense of time has also changed drastically from the time when I barely even used a computer (my parents regulated our computer use, too). I lost most of what remained of my patience after we transitioned from clunky dial-up to high-speed. E-mail, INSTANT messaging (caps was as close as i could get to bold, italic and underlined at the same time!), and such have made my and i’m sure other people’s lives more fast-paced. I get bored easily, and I too am one of those people who considers not replying to an email within 1 hour “MISSING” the email. It’s very unfortunate really, because it takes much of the enjoyment out of books and other things. (by the way, has anyone ever tried comparing old and new plays/movies? waaaay different in pace. just a thought)

    I believe I’ve covered everything I can think of at the moment. Wow, this was a long comment. I bet more than half the Internet-users in the world wouldn’t have had the patience to read to this point!

  2. Another thought: Thank goodness I don’t use Facebook or Myspace! or text-messaging, for that matter… Maybe I can still escape 🙂

  3. I think this in part depends on the temperament of the individual. It’s easy to argue that online resources (Google really being just the tip of that iceberg) lessen our attention spans – and they probably do – but at the same time, when in history have so many people had access to so much information?

    The fault isn’t with the technology, but in how it gets used. It’s great that individuals around the world from a multitude of backgrounds can connect with ideas, information and resources impossible to imagine twenty years ago. At the same time, it’s terrible if we allow the convenience of those tools to diminish our critical thinking skills and/or allow misinformation to flourish unchecked.

    That’s what it boils down to for information professionals – finding ways to educate the public about how to use the best tools of the internet age and disregard the worst.

    That said, I use wikipedia every day. And google seemingly constantly.

  4. True that. Almost anything can be both helpful and harmful, and Internet is no exception. I suppose what we have to do is just not misuse it….

  5. What I liked about the article is that he was agreeing with what Daniel said–when in history have so many people had access to so much information…but he was taking it a step further and asking if the way the information is presented–in short bits–could be affecting how we think.

    And Daniela, what you said about reading books is very true–he points out that reading long books is an acquired skill, not something we do easily, and he wonders if we are losing this skill. I wonder myself.

    Finally, isn’t it curious that everyone who has responded has a name beginning with the letter “d”? David, Daniela, Daniel, Dani? 🙂

  6. I guess I’m not so worried about how our brains are being changed by the Internet — It’s kindof exciting to contemplate. As the author noted, the written word, the printing press, each “change” scared people for what they were losing, but they often couldn’t imagine what new thing would arise from the change. It’s like environmental change that causes extinction of organisms — it’s sad to contemplate the passing of what we know and perhaps love, but such extinctions are what cause the rise of new species. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like to hear about endangered species, but it always makes me wonder what’s going to replace them, thousands of years from now …

  7. II don’t think there is a real difference either way – information through hardcopy or e-media, isn’t it all the same? It’s still information, and the access we have to anything we could want to know on the world wide web is limitless.

  8. I completely agree that the internet and specifically Google has change my way of life. I am constantly saying “Google that” when I am curious to find something out whether it be school related or social reasons. I am so used to being one click away from all my information that I’m not sure what I would do without the internet.

    On a side note, after reading this article I am noticing a lot more of our/my reliance on internet based life. For instance, on the first day of classes I raced to get reading for my 8am class then when I finally reached the ED building my professor was sitting in the classroom correcting papers. The moment he said “Class is cancelled, please make sure to check your email/blackboard consistently.” Which is very aggravating considering the fact that I had no computer (due to it being in the mail)!

    (Prof. Silver’s student)

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