Is Google Making Us Stupid…I think not…

I stumbled upon this interesting article in the latest edition of The Atlantic, one of my favorite magazines.

It delves into a lot of stuff about how thinking has been changed by the ever expanding resources of the computer.

For one…

A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

It’s sad and true. I know if affects me. Short posts are far superior.

And this…

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.

And…

A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.

To those of you lucky enough to own these impressive phones, do you find this to be true? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The article then focuses specifically on Google. One of the G’s founders, Sergey Brin, had this gem of a quote…

In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”

That sounds a little scary.

The topic is fascinating to me, because it stunning how much my daily life has changed in just the last 10 years. Think back to when you/your family didn’t have a computer. Quite remarkable actually. I don’t think we truly realize how fast the change has been. We came of age in a historically unprecedented change.

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7 comments

  1. I completely agree with reading more – I read more now because of the internet than I ever would have in 6th grade. I started checking out news articles online freshman year of high school – but I never would have sat down and read the paper.

    I’ve read 3 books this summer – all of which I found as references to things I was reading about on various blogs. I never would have thought I would be reading as much as I have been.

    I read A TON online…300-400 GReader posts a day…maybe read 50 a day on average, 85 on a good day. I always find myself saying, “I read an article online that…” to someone.

    That makes me cringe. When I say that. Its almost like admitting that I don’t actually know that information, the internet does, and I’m just relaying that information to you. Then again, its better than coming off as a smarty-pants?

    As far as diverted attention/concentration – I don’t think the quality of my reading has diminished because of distractions – I tend to look at things over-critically to begin with, and end up thinking something I actually don’t agree with, so if anything, less concentration is better for me.

  2. To clarify – those 300 to 400 GReader posts I get, I only read 50-85 of them. The other ones mark as read because they don’t interest me.

  3. Very good points. Wholeheartedly agree.

    I especially relate to the ‘I read it on the internet’ comments. I’ve thought about that often…relating back to the idea that none of us really have original thoughts of our own. I think I say that, on the chance that the other person has read the same article, and then sounding like a total plagiarizing tool.

    Ha, interesting take on the benefits of less concentration. I suppose that could work, but don’t you find yourself struggling with longer texts in general, because you’re less accustomed to them?

  4. I worry about that too. But we are more in touch with each other than ever before…maybe we are just an overly electronically social generation.

    Think about about, I think you are a better socializer than 95% of people over 35. And yes, that was a compliment…it won’t happen again. Ha.

  5. I completely agree with the last statement, however I think it is closer to 98%.

    Anyways, think about it. When was the last time you saw two twenty something year old strangers sitting next to each other on a train carrying on a conversation? or in an elevator? You hardly ever see that. We use our cell phones, our ipods, etc. to escape real conversation. People even look at them in passing just to avoid eye to eye contact.

    We definitely are more connected than ever because of technology, but the connection is so surface that sometimes I think we forget how to act when we are faced with real human interaction.

  6. Fair enough. I think I agree with all of your thoughts.

    And the avoiding eye-contact thing is dead on. Do you find yourself fighting it also? I know I do. I’m actually always try to make eye contact and smile, but maybe 3 out of 4 people ever return it. Then when other people are clearly “eye-contact-makers” I usually walk past thinking that they were a little weird. It’s bizarre.

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