Some of you may have read the article “Is Google making us stupid?”. In it Nicholas Carr says the the internet is affecting his memory and powers of concentration. Information is quick to find through a few clicks from Google “tripping from link to link to link” so that he gets sidetracked and distracted and his brain can no longer focus. He believes his brain is being remapped so it expects instant gratification without need of contemplation. He cites others who say they can no longer read books or passages of several paragraphs, who claim their way of thinking has changed. Instead they “power browse”. I think it all depends on what information you’re looking for and why. Haven’t people always skimmed over text to get the gist of it? I, for one, haven’t stopped reading books (non-fiction included). I still like to read in-depth, particularly if I’m interested in a subject. How widespread is the surge of short attention spans and is the internet (let alone Google) to blame?
Jamais Cascio on the other hand asks if Google is actually making us smarter in his article “Get Smarter“. He says that that internet is helping with our intelligence, referring to it as our “hive mind”. The internet makes it easy for everyone to create as well as consume material. Cascio argues therefore that there’s just more information out there and can be misinterpreted – “It’s easy to mistake more voices for more noise”. Scientists such as Steven Johnson maintain that increasing complexity and range of media make us smarter. Labelled “fluid intelligence”, it is the ability to get meaning from confusion and solve new problems. Cascio goes on to say that the attention deficit problem currently experienced may be a short-term problem as we come to grips with managing the glut of information, and reminds us that the phrase “information overload” was coined in 1970. “Google isn’t the problem; it’s the beginning of a solution”. The future is upon us.
Certainly I think blaming Google is unfair even if it is used as a term to indicate the way we browse and search for information. I don’t think the glut of information is making us stupid. If anything is, it would be the dumbing down of public TV programmes not the internet. (A documentary is a rarity and intelligent dramas seem to be fewer. Don’t get me started on TV – it stays off most of the time.)
Have your powers of concentration been altered? Have you stopped reading long passages of text? Or do you think you’re getting smarter, as suggested by Jamais Cascio?