"Is Google Making us Stoopid?"

The article by the same title in The Atlantic caught my eye today. Similarly, the article asks, "Is the internet reprogramming us?"

The author writes that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. We struggle to read long pieces of prose, but instead we find ourselves skimming from one blog to the next, pulling out anecdotes and phrases that pop.

"My mind now expects to taking in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the seas of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."


Referring to a study of the behavior of online researchers: "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."

Maryanne Wolf argues that we are not only "what we read", but "how we read." She believes that the style of reading promoted by the internet is a "style that puts efficiency and immediacy above all else" and it may be "weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when the [printing press] made long and complex works of prose commonplace." Wolf also believes that our tendency is leaning toward becoming "mere decoders of information" rather than readers who make "rich mental connections that form when we read deeply."

Much like the way that native Mandarin speakers form a different neurological circuitry for reading ideograms, the media and technology that we are currently immersing ourselves in is playing a role in reshaping our neural circuitry today, i.e. we are learning to read and think differently than we used to.

Researchers are discovering that even the adult brain - previously thought to fall into rigidity - is "very plastic" and "has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly."

Just think about how the invention of our modern timepiece - the mechanical, ticking clock - has reshaped our lives, the way we think and respond for daily activities. "In deciding when to eat, to work, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock."

The consolidation of our technological and communicative activities into one device - the personal computer w/ internet - allows us to check the time, headlines and email all at once, leading to scattered attention and diffused concentration.

A quote by one of Google's founders may well sum up the underpinnings of this transformation of our thinking that has walked down the aisle with the advent of the internet:

"Certainly if you had all the world's information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you'd be better off."


But, Socrates may have had been on to something, when he wrote that "as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they cease to experience their memory and become forgetful...and because they would be able to receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, they would be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant."

What do you think? Are we losing our ability to read and think deeply? I am certainly excited about the possibilities that the internet age has birthed, but I am wondering if I shouldn't be more aware and cautious of its power over me...in more ways than one.

2 comments:

Chairman said...

Dude. One request. Shorter postings. I can't read all of that stuff in one sitting.

JK said...

Nice.