Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Google Is Making You Stupid (Me, Too)

The latest way to rage against the Google machine is to say that everyone is now dumber for having used it.

In an article for The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr argues that the ease with which we can find information online and jump from page to page is changing the circuitry of our brains and preventing us from engaging in the "deep reading" that we used to enjoy in the pre-Google era. Carr writes:

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.

And you know what? He's absolutely right. As a pathetic case in point, I didn't even read Carr's entire article, even though I'm interested in the topic and offering my own two cents on it now.

For an easier-to-read illustration of how short your reading attention span really has become, check out Michael Agger's How We Read Online. You don't read much of anything online, do you? You're scanning headlines, looking for bold text and pull quotes, and spending less than a minute on a page before a link takes you somewhere else.

When I graduated from college, I looked forward to having the free time to read quality books of my choosing and continuing my own personal education by reading. I was going to use technology to better organize the information I found online. Instead, my Google Reader has way too many feeds, making me a lazy reader. And Delicious has become my personal clearinghouse for viral YouTube videos and links to banal trivia. Things worth reading? They're few and far between.

Even this blog was meant to serve as a way for me to process my thoughts on all the brilliant and useful information that I read online or in all the books I would be reading for pleasure. But I can feel my mind being melded by Google's information overload and I can probably count on one hand the number of books I've read in the last year. At the same time, there is a long list of books that I've started reading and never finished. My online reading habits have overtaken my off-line reading habits!

It's well past time for me to turn over a new leaf, so I'm going to force myself to read something in its entirety. I just renewed my library card...now who has book suggestions?

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