I will admit, I was entirely biased upon reading this story from Nick Carr, who has a knack for writing pieces that get a lot of attention by baiting his hook with contrarian link chum. Heck, he’s really good at it, and I have a lot of respect for Nick. So I’ll take the bait.
His piece starts by conjuring HAL, the famous AI which manipulates humans, then makes his case by citing his own “feeling” that Google has changed his attention span to somehow prove that search and web browsing in general is making us stupid.
Balderdash. What Carr is really saying is this: People are not reading long narrative anymore, and that makes me and my pals sad. So let’s blame the Internet!
Sounds an awful lot like the complaints we heard about TV making us stupid. Did TV make us stupid? I dunno, ask Steven Johnson. I bet he has an opinion on this piece as well.
Carr writes: “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”
So because Nick hasn’t come up with a singular thesis as to what the “Net’s intellectual ethic” is, we must declare it’s making us stupid, eh?
Huh. He goes on to claim that Google is, in essence, an industrial style factory driven by a philosophy that is mechanizing our collective intellect much like factory automation mechanized our collective workforce – in short, Google is turn our minds into nothing more than collective cogs in some borg like hive mind. We’re fucked, and it’s all Google’s fault.
Here’s another quote: “The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.”
Right. And that’s why Google encourages its workers to spend 20% of their time on passion projects. OK.
His conclusion: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”
Good lord. Somehow Carr seems to presume that there’s simply nothing valuable occurring in our minds when we engage with the extraordinary new medium of the web. Because we’re starting to think in different ways, it must be bad. Right? Carr may believe that search and the Internet make us stupid, but I will counter his personal, anecdote-driven conclusions with one of my own: when I am deep in search for knowledge on the web, jumping from link to link, reading deeply in one moment, skimming hundreds of links the next, when I am pulling back to formulate and reformulate queries and devouring new connections as quickly as Google and the Web can serve them up, when I am performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am “feeling” my brain light up, I and “feeling” like I’m getting smarter. A lot smarter, and in a way that only a human can be smarter.
And I have a feeling I’m not alone. What do you guys think?