I had an assignment this week to study articles with opposing views about the future of Google. The assigned article was titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”by Nicholas Carr. I chose to counter it with an article titled “Does Google Make Us Smarter? The World Says Resoundingly, `Yes’” by Hal Varian.
Carr states that the Internet – known generally as Google - is making us stupid. He thinks that we spend so much time on Google that we lose the ability to concentrate and to think deeply because we are always skimming through articles on the Net. Here is one paragraph in his long article.
“So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.
“If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with `content,’ we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture….”
In his article Varian quotes numerous experts – 76% of those questioned - who collectively say that Google does not make us stupid. Here are some of the best quotes in my opinion.
. “My conclusion is that when the only information on a topic is a handful of essays or books, the best strategy is to read these works with total concentration. But when you have access to thousands of articles, blogs, videos, and people with expertise on the topic, a good strategy is to skim first to get an overview. Skimming and concentrating can and should coexist….” --Peter Norvig, Google Research Director
. “Technology isn’t the problem here. It is people’s inherent character traits. The internet and search engines just enable people to be more of what they already are. If they are motivated to learn and [are] shrewd, they will use new tools to explore in exciting new ways. If they are lazy or incapable of concentrating, they will find new ways to be distracted and goof off.” -- Varian
. “I don’t think having access to information can ever make anyone stupider. I don’t think an adult’s IQ can be influenced much either way by reading anything and I would guess that smart people will use the Internet for smart things and stupid people will use it for stupid things in the same way that smart people read literature and stupid people read crap fiction. On the whole, having easy access to more information will make society as a group smarter though.” -- Sandra Kelly, market research, 3M Corporation
. “Google is simply one step, albeit a major one, in the continuing continuum of how technology changes our generation and use of data, information, and knowledge that has been evolving for decades….” – Mario Morino, Chairman, Venture Philanthropy Partners
I agree with the experts. I do not think that the Internet makes us stupid, but I do think that it changes how we do things and thus has changed our lives. Who wants to carry paper maps in their car and search for roads when Google can plot a route for them? The smart person trusts Google but verifies routes with a paper map if in unknown territory. Who wants to go back to using card catalogs when one can use the Internet? No one that I know! Who wants to give up social media, cell phones, etc.