Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Google Making us Stupid?

Nicolas Carr has written another fascinating article you can chew on. It's titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". It relates well to posts about changes in reading behavior that I've been pointing to recently.

The central thought of the article is: "Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought."

This is an interesting statement. However after reading this article I don't understand how this works, although I see it in practice. Does anyone no where I can find more info on this topic? The conclusion of the article seems to be: get used to less-deep-reading and more skimming. But is this really inevitable trend or we will people revolt every now and then? Just like with philosophical trends move between subjectivism and objectivism.

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Here are some key citations from the article:

"It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of "reading" are emerging as users "power browse" horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."

"We are not only what we read," says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. "We are how we read."

"Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It's not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains."

"When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net's image. It injects the medium's content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed."

"The Net's influence doesn't end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations."

"What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind."

"Still, their easy assumption that we'd all "be better off" if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google's world, the world we enter when we go online, there's little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive."

"The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author's words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking."

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