Ahhh, the information age! Everything you’ve ever wanted to know is just a wireless cafe away, and no stone was left unturned! If you’re subtle with an iPhone, you can absolutely dominate Trivial Pursuit or impress family and friends watching Jeopardy (please note: you made need a 3G for this–results may vary). What could possibly go wrong?
I wouldn’t dare infer that I was the progenitor of the idea, but for years I have grumbled about the detrimental effects the internet has had (and will have) on people, culture, and society-at-large. Perhaps I’m just a cynic–or maybe I took Brave New World a bit seriously–but sometimes it just feels like we’re rushing (read: being propelled?) towards some catastrophic end. As our access to information has skyrocketed in the past decade, our retention of knowledge has plummeted. At least that’s what I’ve observed in my tiny sliver of the pie chart that is life.
Well, I’m glad to say I finally found sweet vindication in an article published in this month’s issue of The Atlantic written by socio-tech-business extraordinaire Nicholas Carr. Bluntly titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” the article outlines many of the dystopian proclamations I myself have championed over the years, but also provides a superb historical context for these issues. Ever wonder how people reacted to the introduction of the typewriter, the printing press, or even the written word itself? How about the mechanical clock? Carr cites intriguing contrarian opinions on them all.
It may be too late for any of us to seriously contemplate the ills we endure using Microsoft Word or wristwatches; after all, we were raised under their influence. Now that our younger friends and siblings are coming of age with an ingrained relationship to Google, Myspace, YouTube, and beyond, we are in a unique position as the last generation capable of comparing a pre-Google society to a post-Google one. Do we still have the attention span for that?
It usually takes a violent revolution for new regimes to take power, but a shift in ideology or societal norms is far less conspicuous. In 2004, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told a Newsweek interviewer “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.” Just last year, co-founder Larry Page was quoted saying that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.” Personally, I find it alarming that this infinitely influential duo embraces such controversial views so openly.
Mr. Carr acutely articulates the fallacy in that line of thinking, stating: “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…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.” Personally, I find it alarming that this infinitely insightful article will fly under the radar of the majority of internet users.
This probably all seems a bit heavy handed. You might ask yourself, “Does an angel die every time i click the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button?” while others may decry this little blog as a bunch of doom and gloom. (In reality, most of you probably didn’t make it past my Jeopardy link in the first paragraph, further illustrating my point) The easy response is: “If you think Google is making you stupid, stop using it.” Well, sure. I could jump off the Google train, and spend years coughing up the dust it sprays in my face as it goes barreling off in the name of Progress… But I always have such a difficult time with those green wedges!