Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That's the question asked in the July-August 2008 issue of The Atlantic. How is our incessant use of the Internet changing our brains? Are we thinking and learning differently as a result of our exposure to the Web? I see elements of myself in this article, and it gives me pause. Check out a couple excerpts:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.


As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. 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.


“I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print” . . . . Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

You can read this thoroughly fascinating essay here, and I hope you will. I'd love to hear your feedback. Is there something to this? And if so, should we be doing something different in order to preserve or retrain our minds?

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