Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

This article focuses on what the internet is doing to our brains—not with children but in well educated adults. Nicholas Carr (2009) states, “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” He cites that he reads differently online but because it makes his job infinitely easier he uses it on a regular basis. “And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” He states he can concentrate on long pieces of writing because he thinks his mind is looking for quick bits of information coming at you in a steady stream. A doctor who is on the Faculty at Michigan Medical School agrees with Carr and says he now “skims” and often “bounces” to another site after skimming or after reading 3 or 4 paragraphs.

Carr feels that there are new forms of reading emerging like “power browsing” but even more significant we are developing new ways to think. It is this author contention that the device we use for the written language shapes reading as well. Written, typed and now word processing reprograms our reading circuits. “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how exactly, it’s reprogramming us.”(5)

When he examines what is different it the “efficiency” and “immediacy”, the hyperlinks, blinking ads, animations, and the list goes on and on. So now the brain reacts differently and deep reading is not occurring.

The New York Times has reported that on pages 2 and 3 there are now article abstracts—so that readers don’t have to read the whole article but will still have the news they need to know (“and won’t have to flip the pages”). So this phenomenon of “Net Reading” is spreading back into written text.

Google has declared its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google seems to be telling us that our brains is like an outdate computer and we better get a “faster processor and a bigger hard drive.” This world of the Net is not geared to go at a leisurely pace—it is to go at the speed of light and we better learn to adapt or else we will be left behind.
So what will be lost is the contemplation—our ability to connect, to have original thoughts is gone and with it the ability to deep think. Carr contemplates our brains will someday be artificial intelligence?

Reflection: After recently weeding non-fiction books I had a parent volunteer ask me why I was getting rid of some of these perfectly good books (albeit they were a little old)—my reply was—students will not pick up these books. They will not like to see data/facts hidden in chapters. They want short chunky articles, chapters that have a lot of subheadings and not long in length. So I think that the “Net” now influences the print industry and dictates what kinds of books that students will read. From this article, it is what well educated adults want as well. So what strategies will I need to start focusing on? The immediacy, how to focus and stay on track when reading, how to develop skills to deep read—perhaps some reflection or summary activities that will allow student to think and assimilate what they have read.

Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stupid: what the internet is doing to our brains.” The Atlantic. Retrieved from

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