In his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” Nicholas Carr, a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review and a member of the steering board for the World Economic Forum’s cloud computing project, criticizes the overall impact of the internet, as a whole, on the human process of thought, comparing his past level of conception to “a scuba diver in a sea of words” whereas his current understanding simply “zip[s] along the surface” (Carr 68). Carr targets the prominent internet search engine as the black sheep for web user’s dwindling in capacity to comprehend and concentrate on high-brow literature. However, due to the fact that the objective of the corporation is to ultimately be monetarily successful, Google’s approach to providing proficient, while immediate, information is not based upon their own preference, but rather that of its’ consumers. Based on trends on college campuses, Scott Carlson, a journalist for The Chronicle, finds the number of students using libraries has drastically decreased over the years, using the convenient “‘virtual library’” at their disposal instead (Carlson 1).
This infers research found on the internet is the same, and or suffice to that acquired from a hard-back encyclopedia, periodical, etc. Therefore, while I agree with the general trend of decreased absorption Carr suggests, the internet still contributes to human potential for critical, deep thought through the application of habituation and the numerous online resources offering the equivalent of any printed scholarly work. My inclination to agree with Carr’s theory is solely based on his reference to the work of Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist, who elicits that the skill of deciphering symbolic characters into an understood language is not instinctive (Carr 69). Instead, in parallel to any activity one would like to develop themselves in, “practicing the craft of reading play[s] an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains” (69).
The many interruptions encompassing the internet, such as info-thickets, e-mails, headlines, blog posts, etc., undermine the brains’ ability to transfer newly learned information into your long-term memory. Multitasking by attempting to read bits and pieces of a handful of information online is not beneficial and rather proves to be a less efficient way of preserving knowledge. According to the Social Science Research Network, in a study of the brain’s ability to process various data, switching mindsets proved to incite mental exhaustion. By analyzing the affects of these assorted changes in five separate experiments, the researcher found that “switching mindsets is an executive function that consumes self-regulatory resources and therefore renders people relatively unsuccessful in their self-regulatory endeavors,” simply concluding that it is in one’s best interest to “try to change hats as infrequently as possible” (Hamilton 10).
Like muscle memory, the brain retains its ability to understand complex literature material only if training, or reading, is continuous. Yet, skipping out on the workouts of “immersing [oneself] in a book…or getting caught up in the narrative” will overtime deteriorate this strength, depreciating a powerful recollection into a weak grasp (Carr 67). Though I concede that skimming online undermines one’s effort behind scholarly reading, I still insist that the internet provides more benefits than detriments. The nature of technology, in general, broadens our potential to change our environment and has historically provided the power for civilizations to develop. From the late 21st century to the present the World Wide Web has been that force and statistics show its presence directly draws a parallel to an improvement of our brainpower.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, seventy six percent of technology stakeholders and critics disagree with Carr and accept the statement: “people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices” (Anderson 1). While thirty two percent of professionals, like Association for Computing Machinery U.S. Public Policy Councilman Gene Spafford, think “most writing online is devolving toward…quick, throwaway notes with abbreviations and threaded references,” the overwhelming majority agrees that by 2020 the internet will have boosted and advanced our ability to comprehend, inscribe and exchange knowledge (Anderson 10).
These statistics are vital because they shed light on the long term positive effects of Google and the Internet, altering the premises people have established prior to research. The argument of advertisements being distracting and undermining the reader’s focus is a valid point. Carr describes these commercials as overwhelming “the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws,” which scatter our interest and distribute our attentiveness (Carr 71). However, the law of habituation refutes this theory, stating that our response toward a stimulus lessens with increased exposure. According to the Harris Poll, sixty three percent of U.S adults completely ignore banner and search engine advertisements and ninety one percent ignore nearly all commercialized announcements (Braverman 1).
The perception Carr creates of ads, specifically hyperlinks, is misleading for he depicts the internet user to have very little say, if any, and is often coerced into utilizing the resource. In reality, rather than “propelling you toward [related works],” they merely serve as suggestions used at the expense of the consumer (Carr 67). What Carr does not draw attention to throughout his article is the fact that internet tools, like cookies, and hyperlinks, are solely approaches supporting the web’s convenience. Therefore, a correlation may exist between the surfing of the internet and lower reading comprehension and concentration levels, but there is no way to measure an online reader’s intent and correspond it to the depth of what they read. Carr is mistaken because he overlooks the serving nature of the internet and attempts to draw parallels between Google and Taylorism.
The “industrial choreography” of Taylorism suggests that in order to achieve maximum results, an individual system of work must be established (71). By drawing this comparison, he utterly disregards human ingenuity, depicting internet users as cookie cutters following “the perfect algorithm” to suit our requests (72). As Peter Norvig, Google Research Director, conveys, “Taylorism shifts responsibility from worker to management, institutes a standard method for each job/Google does the opposite, shifting responsibility from management to the worker, encouraging creativity in each job” (Anderson 2). While Carr presents a suitable case to support his dilemma, his tendency to prove the null hypothesis of Google is overly pessimistic.
His argument that the long term influence of the internet on our comprehension and concentration will be damaging is blemished. Although researching online may not be traditional, exposure to information we intentionally choose to look at only leads to obtained knowledge we did not know before. I italicize intentionally to make a point: the medium of information people use is based on their preference. When discussing reading over scholarly literature versus scanning for a quick answer, the fact is both are optional at the disposal of the consumer.
In response to advertisements being distracting, not only are there web sites containing few, if any, but humans generally ignore them as well. Thus, if it were definitively true that the intelligence Google provides was overall harmful, the blame could not be put on the corporation. Instead, the people whom the business adhere to are at fault. Because of these reasons, and the strong correlation between the internet’s unlimited amount of knowledge and improving intellect, Google and the Web as a whole are large contributors to human potential.
Braverman, Samantha. “Are Advertisers Wasting Their Money?” PR Newswire. Harris Interactive, 3 Dec. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2012. Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The New Humanities Reader. Ed. Richard E. Miller and Kurt Spellmeyer. 4th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. 67-74. Print. Carlson, Scott. “Technology As Students Work Online, Reading Rooms Empty Out –Leading Some Campuses to Add Starbucks.” The Chronicle. The Chronicle, 16 Nov. 2001. Web. 23 Sept. 2012. Hamilton, Ryan, Kathleen Vohs, Tom Meyvis, and Anne-Laure Sellier. “Being of Two Minds: Switching Mindsets Exhausts Self-Regulatory Resources.” Social Science Research Network. Social Science Electronic Publishing, 18 Dec. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2012. Rainie, Lee, and Janna Anderson. “Future of the Internet IV.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center, 19 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 Sept. 2012.
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