Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let me count the ways

Much has been made about a piece in the Atlantic — a good piece, mind you — where Nicholas Carr posits that Google specifically, and search in general, is making us stupid.

Basically, he points out that we are no longer able to handle large blocks of text; we are losing our powers of recall and concentration — that our brains are actually changing.  He wonders if we may in fact be getting… stupid.

I’m thinking he’s right. Not only are we stupid — we’re stupid about being stupid. We don’t know what to do when information isn’t delivered to us.

On second thought, cancel that “we.” Make it “many people.”  Specifically, many people who might — or might not — be my children.

Recently, my youngest had to finish a paper on the Renaissance, and the Internet was down. He was stymied. Panicked. The grade, as far as he was concerned, was already in the toilet.

I had to point out that probably, he could use this thing — made of paper — called a book. I said, “before there was wikipedia there was an encyclopedia.” He protested that a book was so… primitive.  It couldn’t possibly be up to speed.

“I need the latest information, Mom!”

“You need the latest information… on the Renaissance? Believe me, it hasn’t changed that much.” The Internet’s chief attraction is they can play games or watch YouTube videos while theoretically doing homework. No wonder we have the collective attention span of a paper plate.

He was uncertain, but I showed him how to open… the… Big Encyclopedia Book… to… the … right… letter. R=Renaissance. See?”

He was impressed. “They have pictures, too?”

I think he was expecting stone tablets.

And that’s not the only way we’re getting stupid. Like Nicholas Carr, I am finding myself less patient with long stretches of text unless it’s really interesting, beautifully written, or informative. This is a huge change for me; I read constantly. Constantly!

I recently tried to re-read “Atlas Shrugged,” because I remembered liking it as a teenager and thought my middle son would like it. OMG. Here’s this 1000-page book, with speeches that last — I am not making this up — for 50 pages or more. I kept popping in and out of paragraphs, saying, “yeah, yeah — get on with it! Get to the point!”

Now I’m quite sure that Ayn Rand fully intended everyone to read every word.

I couldn’t do it. Maybe *she* was stupid. Or maybe I am, for ever thinking I liked a book with 50-page speeches in the first place.

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6 Comments

Filed under Parenting, Science and tech, Teenagers

6 responses to “Does Google Make Us Stupid? Let me count the ways

  1. I have thought about this a lot. I am leaning towards the idea that Google is not really making us stupid, but it is probably making us lazy. My first train of thought is that the ability to absorb long and complex passages does not necessarily equal intelligence, per se. I have always admired writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Dorothy Parker whose brevity (the soul of wit) was essential to their form. These writers managed to get very profound ideas across without turgid and lengthy prose leaving room in the spaces in between for quiet contemplation. Salman Rushdie and James Joyce on the other hand never drew me in. Too showy and didactic for my tastes. So people are wired differently for consuming information, regardless of the Internet. I do think it is worrying that people are becoming so dependent on Google and other on-line resources that they cannot imagine writing any kind of report or analytical document without consulting them. Two things are lost in the commoditisation of information – the joy of discovery and a natural, slower pace that gives room for contemplation and analysis.

  2. Atlas Shrugged is a tough slog. The Fountainhead was much better written.

    • alittleclarity

      You’re right of course. I just remembered liking Atlas Shrugged at one point — ah, youth. Or less Google. Whichever it was. Thanks for the comment (and reassurance).

  3. Pingback: Acts of Sedition, Contrition and Prosti..tition? Why we still need newspapers like the New York Times « Alittleclarity’s Weblog

  4. After reading through this article, I just feel that I need more information on the topic. Could you suggest some more resources please?

  5. alittleclarity

    Hi Ted,
    Coincidentally, I just saw something… today. But I was doing so much research, I only had time to think, “oh, hey, that’s like the Google post,” and then it was on to the next thing.

    I will look for a couple more resources and send them to you/and post them tomorrow.
    Thanks for stopping by!

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