Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” discusses how the use of the computer affects our thought process. Carr starts out talking about his own experience as a writer and how he felt like “something had been tinkering with his brain, remapping his neural circuitry and reprogramming his memory.” Since starting to use the Internet his research techniques have changed. Carr said before he would immerse himself in books, lengthy articles and long stretches of prose allowing his “mind to get caught up in the narrative or the arguments.” Today Carr has found that “his concentration drifts away from the text after several pages and he struggles to get back into the text.” His premise is that since he has spent the past ten years working online, searching and surfing and writing content for databases” his brain circuitry has changed. He indicates that some of his fellow writers have experienced the same kinds of changes in their reading books and maintaining concentration. Some of them said they do not read books as easily because their concentration and focus has become shorter.
In analyzing Carr’s premise, I find both strengths and weaknesses. His assertion is that use of the Internet and resources like Google actually change the nature of our brain. He reaches this assumption with mere anecdotal data, pointing to his own experience and that of “friends and acquaintances.” He sites their difficulties with reading long books and passages even blogs over three or four paragraphs. Nowhere in his article does Carr make reference to legitimate studies that go beyond that small group of people, all of which may have similar levels of education, income, career, family demands, and stress levels.
I have experienced this phenomenon as simply an artifact of being too busy. When I get too busy I become distractible, I become impulsive, I become restless, I become irritable, I become easily frustrated. I feel like it is caused by the frantic pace of modern life, and creates a situation where I cannot read long passages or focus, and, as Carr describes, do not or cannot take the time to deliberate or contemplate.
They seem to be negative changes in my life. However, I strongly agree that the Internet enables me to spend more valuable time in the creative process than in performing the mechanical aspects of research. Only four decades ago, scientists would spend a majority of their time performing the laborious task of cranking out answers to mathematical calculation. The calculator and the computer have relieved them of this task and freed their minds to more deeply contemplate the creative aspects of discovery. Moreover, the Internet now enables me world-wide collaboration and collection of data and experience, opinions and ideas, all from the comfort of a single computer monitor. This transformation, not in brain structure but pure access to information, has given me access to trillions of pieces of information available instantly at my fingertips. Researching subjects in the past involved spending hours in the stacks at the libraries. Now with Google listing immediately related articles and information related to the search, more to time is available to evaluate the information. Google helps save time by not having to search for answers in hundreds or thousands of pages of periodicals, newspapers, and books.
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Carr reminds us that new technology impacts social and cultural behavior. During the Industrial Revolution the steam engine, gas engine, time management and more recently automation and robotics have created more efficient means of doing things. Once personal computers and the Internet were introduced with online services like Google and other social networks, users had immediate communications and the ability to spend their time to socialize. Today there are cell phones, I-pads, Kindles, and printers that can receive wireless Internet service. The human brain may adapt by learning how to incorporate cyberspace into daily life, and people continue to create and improve technology.
In my experience, Google does not make us stupid like Carr suggests in his article. Google may make us seem lazy because we do less reading and physical activity. Information found on websites helps me become smarter and able to learn subjects easier in school. In the end, Carr never really provides scientific evidence that shows the brain’s circuitry having actually changed.
In my experience, the computer and the Internet have enhanced my abilities and increased my processing speeds for acquiring knowledge: making my brain more efficient in multitasking.