In his article “Is Google Making us Stupid?”, Carr suggests that advancement in internet and technology has affected the way we think. His main concern seems to be that although information is available readily we spend a lot more time skimming and don’t often dig deeper – which is making us stupid!
My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
Carr suggests that this is necessarily a bad thing – I find power browsing especially empowering – news apps/websites have curated their format such that I can get snippets of news, just long enough to keep my attention. In the preceding decades before the internet – content was limited and available only in the form of print. If you got one newspaper, there were only so many stories you could read. Now the content is unlimited and can be curated based on your likes and dislikes. There is no need for me to dig into every story – just reading a brief abstract is enough. If I find something that interests me I always dig deeper – in fact, there have been times where I’ve gone down a pigeon hole – clicking link after link from news article to Wikipedia and back and forth. This is also particularly good practice for doing research – nobody has the time to read, understand and contemplate about every paper – knowing what to read and how to read smartly will definitely set you apart in a Ph.D. program. In personal practice, I have also found that skimming makes it easier for me to retrieve information at a later time.
Carr also suggests that we are in some sense becoming mindless sheep or “mere decoders of information” as our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged. I disagree – the following comment from a reader sums up my thoughts succinctly:
It is ridiculous to bemoan a state which is self-created; that is a sign of weakness of will, of indiscipline, not of victimhood. Carr actually blames it on “computer engineers and software coders” who build things like Google—which is silly. Indeed, to that extent, Carr profoundly misunderstands the nature of the problem: to pretend that you can blame others (programmers, no less!) for your unwillingness to think long and hard is only a sign of how the problem itself resides within you. It is ultimately a problem of will, a failure to choose to think. If that is a problem of yours, you have no one to blame for it but yourself.
Given his stance on how our attention spans are reduced and we spend less and less time reading long prose, I find the length of his article amusing.