June 20, 2008
Is Google Making Us Stupid? Time to Think About Our Human Legacies
He humorously writes, "I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy.
My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."
No surprise. The web has made us think in 'automatics.' We want to know where X venue is, we 'google it.' We want to know a definition for a word, phrase or concept, we 'google it.' We want to find data on an author or artist we love, 'we google them.'
Now that we're living in a world of automatics, inside a culture that has always expected things to be handed to them on a platter (and its getting worse), isn't it an automatic that our attention span will decrease if things suddenly take too long, including making a phone call, buying a train ticket or ordering a sandwich?
Carr is a writer and I obviously dabble with words from time to time myself, so yes, yes yes.......for those of us who write and work online, the web has been a productivity godsend. I used to think email was a productivity godsend too but I'm beginning to eat my words since my inbox has started to own me rather than the other way around.
So, while the web is a wonder of information and can give us whatever we want in minutes, including long tail product and service wonders across a myriad of verticals we never knew existed, not only does data overload take over, but so does our expectation of what we get and when we get it.
He talks to Tufts University developmental psychologist Maryann Wolf, who worries that "the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace." She points out that when we read online, "we tend to become 'mere decoders of information,' which is exactly the point.
Call it the Google lifestyle and its more prominent in Silicon Valley than probably anywhere else in the world. Northern California is full of natural beauty and yet those I know who live, breath and work the Google lifestyle rarely get a chance to see it.
This was thrown in my face, when during a recent Israel trip with other Bay Area bloggers, we got caught up in twittering each other and blogging on a van while passing old Jerusalem, instead of looking out the window.
The key is to NOT get 'caught up' in the web. Just when you hear that internal voice saying "I can't afford a break," or "don't have time for a hike" or can't take a weekend away without my laptop," take two steps back and think about your legacy and how long you have to leave one.
And remember we leave two. Our professional ones which may involve being engaged with a computer 80% of the time and our human ones. Is time committed to leaving your human legacy 20% of less and if so, will that be acceptable when you're 80 and you look back?
Part of that human legacy is engaging with what's 'real', not digital. Translation: laughing and embracing people, reading a novel with physical pages, building a wooden bench with your hands, swimming across the bay, cycling across America.
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