“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

As you read Nicolas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” consider how he describes the impact of new media technologies on the human mind.  He notes that these technologies are not just simply external tools that we use, but that they also change the nature of human consciousness and how we comprehend the world.  You might not have considered the mechanical clock a technology that radically changed the way we perceive the world and the human mind, but sure enough you’ve heard the phrase “her mind worked like clockwork!” What similar metaphors can we consider for the way the computer might make us (as Apple advertisements put it) “think different?”  In particular, Carr gives some surprising anecdotal examples about his own growing difficulty with reading longer texts:

My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

As “digital natives,” do you agree or disagree that you have grown up reading and thinking differently?  Are you overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information online?  Do you think this has negatively impacted your critical thinking skills, and do you experience something akin to Carr’s inability to concentrate on complex texts or arguments?  Are you surprised, then, when he notes historically similar anxieties about the printing press weakening students’ minds because they could so easily access books and didn’t need scholastic authority to provide their education?  Analyze Carr’s position on the impact of new media, which is a fairly negative one, but also address why he points out the limits of his critique and suggests that readers should be “skeptical of his skepticism.”

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10 responses to ““Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

  1. As members of the “born digital” generation, do you agree or disagree that you have grown up reading and thinking differently?

    I see the “born digital” generation as the kids who didn’t do those things… the kids who never read a book outside of school, the kids who never played board games, just consoles. I think it’s wrong to call us 1993 or earlier folk “born digital”… that term should truly be applied to people who were born after 1996, I think. Those kids have had constant, easy access to the internet for most of their lives. I know I didn’t. I read a lot, I rode my bike, I built a treehouse, I played with Barbie dolls. I first started to use the internet outside of school when I was 10 or 11, and it was not the same internet we have today, not at all. I grew up in between the two ways of life and thought.

    That being said… Carr put my feelings very well here: “I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link” (paragraph 3). The Internet does not encourage focus or dedication… it makes it easy to flit from page to page, snippet to video.

    Carr is very negative toward this new form of thought and concentration, but is it really so bad? I’m skeptical. The human brain is made up of synapses, connections, and the Internet is all about connections. Sure, I might not take the time to memorize a recipe or learn my way around the interstate highways of the US because I know I can always access those online, but I remember many other things. Culture, art, science… it’s all easy to find online. When I hear about some new archaeological find, the truth is just a quick Google search away, as are related finds, or controversy.

    It’s hard to teach and think with so many ideas out there vying for your attention, but I’m sure the human brain can adapt and expand to fully utilize the immense power of what we have created.

    That, or it will become sentient and turn us into meat batteries. Either or.

  2. I agree to having grown up reading and thinking differently, but to an extent. When I was in first grade, I learned how to read from a book. In third grade, I learned how to multiply without a calculator. Internet did not help me with any of my younger years. By the time I was in 7th grade, the internet did not seem to be that big of a deal, but then I received a laptop for my birthday. The internet then became my friend. There was so much information. I loved not having to spend hours-on-end flipping through dusty pages to find information for a paper. But just because I prefer the internet, that does not mean that I have lost the ability go to the library and try to find the book I need for the information; my paper would just take longer. Since then, I would have to agree that most of my generation has been growing up differently than previous ones.
    In his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicolas Carr believes that the internet is negatively impacting our critical thinking skills, but I believe my own skills have improved. Just because the internet makes everything able to be done faster, that does not mean that there is nothing to critically think about. And as for the inability to concentrate, I believe that that is based on a person’s own self-control. Carr states that “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy… Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do” (pages 1-2). I can sit down and read a book or an article just fine. It all depends on self-control.
    All in all, Carr has a negative outlook on the impact of the media, but I admire his taking the time to explore and give us his opinion and his coming forward to maybe being wrong. He states “be skeptical of my skepticism” (page 8). He wants us to think for ourselves and just know that there is more than one opinion, and my personal opinion is that Google is most definitely not making us stupid. It is progressing what we can know.

  3. In Nicolas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Carr’s attitude is not very far off from most adults’ view on the technology of today. The older generation is skeptical of what the internet is doing to our brains and our attention spans. I have observed that most people from the older generation fear technology, whereas my generation embraces it. The younger generation is more welcoming to technology because they have not experienced life without it. Carr is correct when he states that technology has changed the way we think. Every new piece of technology changes the way people think and carry on daily life. For example, the clock drastically changed our daily lives, people started operating on a schedule and paid less attention to their senses (Carr 5). Typically the older generation does fear this change in life and is skeptical of the effect it will have on the population. For example, Socrates feared the effect writing would have on people’s memories . Carr also worried about the effect the internet has on people’s critical thinking skills and their attentions spans. He claims that he can no longer read long articles and form coherent arguments. “Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text”(Carr 2). I do not share the same problem as Carr. I can read long novels with no trouble, if it is an effective use of my time. I am not going to read something for a long amount searching for the information I need, when I could just find it on the internet. I think that Carr can no longer tolerate the slower pace of technology and therefore finds his mind wandering. Even though this troubles Carr he does leave the reader with hope that this technology is not all bad. He acknowledges that no one knows the effect the internet could have on life and the positive rewards it could bring.

  4. In some ways i agree that I have grown up thinking and reading differently because of the many resources that we have now. Technology have immensly improved over time and as new things appear, you have to learn differently in order to use the resources given to you. In some ways I disagree because the morals and understandings that my grandparents have taught me are still instilled into me, and some things cannot be changed. In my opinion the improvement and discovery of the internet was a brilliant idea, it makes easy work less time consuming. Being as though I was born into the generation of technology it doesnt overwhelm me, it actually relaxes my nerves because I don’t have to work so hard for simple information. There is a negative side to the internet, one being that it makes reading regular books a little distracting. Sometimes I can be reading something and I feel my eyes wondering past words because I’m becoming bored. This does not always happen, just in the readings I’m not interested in. Nicolas Carr feels the same way, but then he says “google is making us stipid.” I actually disagree with that because in order to find information on the internet you have to read. I may not be as stimulating as a reading a book, but it does still give your brain exercise. Maryanne Wolf says, “We are not only what we read.” She agrees that we do read more then we did in past generations, but when we text we loose the emotion behind our voice and no one really knows how you feel. In ending I think the internet hasn’t ruined our generation, it just changed the way people think or view the world.

  5. The fact that human mind is so flexible and open to grasp a whole lot of information in a regular basis makes Carr’s argument mostly invalid. Exposure to internet and its unlimited facilities has made me more informative and made my reading habits more flexible. I like to believe that reading and thinking are two different aspects of gaining information and processing it. No matter how much information a person is exposed to, all that matters is how s/he uses that information in her/his daily lives. We cannot blame the technology for our ignorance and indolence. James Olds’ statement,” The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions”, (paragraph 13) clarifies that the decision of stating the technology as ‘curse’ or ‘boon’ depends solely on us and that whether to benefit from the huge volume of internet online or let it dictate our lives, depends solely on us.

    Also, Carr goes to far with the generalization of calling our generation a ‘born digital’ one. What he fails to address is that most of the people in our generation do not have an access to online information. In my opinion, the unlimited access to the internet and information online has made me more critical of the materials I read today. I am exposed to a lot more than what I did when the use of internet was minimal in my life. I can now scan through a storehouse of information and ‘examine’ carefully what is of use to me and what is not. That being said, I read printed books and papers with the same rigor that I used to many years back. I am not overwhelmed by the amount of information online. Rather, I’m grateful for such a marvelous innovation, which allows me to hone my reading skills by exposing me to unlimited options of knowledge, as a result of which my critical thinking skills are better now than before. As for the argument about not being able to concentrate, I would go so far as to call it illogical. The ability to concentrate, for me at least, depends mostly on the study matter.

    Summing up, it is true that most people misuse the technology and use it in an inappropriate manner. For instance, using social networks while doing an assignment online and letting oneself be distracted by the ‘distractions’ that it creates surely hampers the learning and critical thinking process. Apart from that, technology is mostly beneficial than not.

  6. I believe Carr has a valid point. My generation and those following most likely have grown to read and think differently. I disagree with the notion that we were “born digital.” We aren’t born digital, we are taught to become that way later on in our development. I personally have a difficult time with technology sometimes. The amount of technology we are supposed to keep up with and the amount of information we have access to through that technology is completely overwhelming to me.
    I do not think that my critical thinking skills have been impaired by the technology. If anything, it has helped develop my critical thinking skills. One needs critical thinking skills just to sift through all the information constantly being thrown at people on the internet. I do experience something similar to Carr’s inability to concentrate but I think we have ourselves to blame for that, not technology. Humans just do not seem to care about self control as it relates to patience and learning anymore. Perhaps this could be considered a side effect of the digital age, but we must take responsibility as well.

  7. While I do agree with some of Carr’s arguments that the internet is perhaps influencing our minds greater than any technology has before, I disagree that it is inherently changing the way our minds work. Instead I argue that rather than misshaping our mind into some unrecognizable form it is merely increasing and enhancing our natural mental habits. I may even suggest that the long winded linear forms of reading of yesteryear were more unnatural than how we read on the internet. Our minds don’t work in a linear way, going down and down and down a list, but rather scattered everywhere ,and perhaps the internet is increasing these habit in a bad way, putting these symptoms on steroids and making us more and more clouded in thought and decreasing our memory, but not our capacity. It is human nature to not remember what need not be remembered, what is easily attained again, and I do agree that that is a down side to the internet. Why do we need to remember anything anymore? Phone numbers are all stored in our phones, and important information can be attained by the click of a mouse, so why remember it? I’m not saying that we shouldn’t but for our brains that is basically how it works keep what it needs and leave the rest out. In this way computers are a detriment to us, but it isn’t because google is “making us stupid” or because it is warping our minds, but I argue the opposite. It is because our minds are doing so well what they’ve always done that this is a natural reaction to a very complex situation.

  8. soon-to-be-wifey

    I completely agree that we have grown up thinking differently and it has continued to evolve even more so. For example, there are now programs and tools such as “Baby Einstein” and “Your Baby Can Read” that use some sort of technology to teach children starting at an early age. Even the five year age gap between my twin sisters and me is a big difference in the depth to which they learn and how they learn. They use technology even more than I did in high school and I’m sure the evolution of technology in the classroom will continue.

    Carr mentions how people have critiqued just about every new technological advance that has come about – for example, the printing press. He then states that the “doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver” (8). The problem is that no one wants to accept and embrace change. We have seen it over and over again throughout history, the most prominent example being integration. Our society has trouble coping with change and often doubts that it will bring any good. We have the tendency to focus on what could go wrong rather than what could go right. So, no, I am not surprised at the doubt that comes from the advances in technology.

    The argument that perhaps research papers should be removed is drastic. It is true that the research is more readily at our fingertips; however, research papers still require the writer to take that information, analyze it, and form their own stance based on that research. Just because we can research easier now doesn’t mean that we should do away with it altogether. Google is not making a stupid; it is allowing us to increase our knowledge both in depth and breadth.

  9. In this day in age, I do believe learning styles have changed and Carr’s article forced me to focus on my personal learning styles. Yes, I have noticed that I do get my work finished faster when using the internet, which is usually more important to me at the moment, but I could be using the local library if I’d like to. The fact that several teachers of mine in high school just required to have some sort of resource didn’t mean I wasn’t allowed to get all of my resources off the internet. Many would agree that it’s a quick, more convenient way to get assignments done when all the resources in the world are at your fingertips, but I have learned the same as everyone else since I was a baby to now. I said my ABC’s, I recited lines from plays, I read Dr. Seuss, and I wrote in my diary without a computer. Just because I’ve been introduced to new technology does not own up to the fact that I’m intelligent, and if you took my computer away, I’d still be intelligent.
    When Carr says, “Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do,” (Pg. 1) it really makes me think of myself. I get distracted anywhere, doing anything, with anyone, and it’s not just on the internet, although, I have 20 different things going on while I’m typing this very paragraph. Carr also states to be “skeptical of his skepticism,” due to the fact that he wants readers to explore for themselves, and really be aware, but still be open to some of the same options.

  10. Optical_Allusion

    Carr’s obviously negative opinion is hard to ignore throughout the article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He seems to believe that the onset of the technological age is causing younger generations to lose certain qualities possessed by their elders. According to Carr, activities such as immersing one’s self into a novel or lengthy work of literature are no longer enjoyable, thanks to the Internet. In fact he goes so far as to say that, “What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” (Paragraph 5) The fact that Carr is placing all blame solely on the Internet for his no longer being able to concentrate portrays a narrow mindset. He never addresses the fact that the modern, “digital age” is so fast paced that he may not have time to sit down and read a novel as he might like. In fact I believe that the Internet has made it more possible to become familiar with works of literature.
    Instead of having to set aside time to travel to a bookstore and browse among shelves for a new book to read, the Internet is a great source to discover what a reader might be interested in. There are websites currently where a person can answer survey like questions to determine specific genres that suit their tastes, or even what book series the person is most likely to enjoy. Also digital downloads of E-books make it possible to access the work straight from home on your computer and begin reading almost immediately. Points such as this make me thankful that Carr does acknowledge he may be incorrect in thinking that this digitalization of modern culture is a bad decision. I respect the fact that Carr has put forth the effort to research other apocalyptic prophesies of the past where new technologies were deemed to be destructive. Although some of his worries may come true, such as a lack of focus being possible to attain, it is highly unlikely that all of his concerns will prove to be valid.

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