Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'm with stupid?

I was just reading (skimming) an article online from The Atlantic about how we're becoming a culture of people who skim articles about the internet online. I'm half-kidding - that's not the only thing the article was about. It's called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" and its author, Nicholas Carr, posits that we're forgetting how to think, thanks to the internet.

Yeah, I know this is not a new argument. Internet-phobes and moms all over the country make similar decrees daily. (Not to mention sociologists from back in the olden times. Weber thought we were all cogs in a machine. The machine in his old German example was the factory conveyor belt. The new machine would be the laptop.)

But Carr's take on it started making me think. It's true that I don't use dictionaries, or maps, or encyclopedias anymore, thanks to the wonder of Google. (You can forget a thesaurus - I don't think I've ever understood how to use those things.) It's also true that I get impatient when any piece of writing is more than a few paragraphs long. Even my own blog posts. I'm probably unique in that I still read lots of books, but I prefer the ones with short chapters and broken-up paragraphs. If the author uses short, quippy sentences, I'm golden.

So it's worth considering. Is Google (and the internet) making me stupid? Is everything that makes my life a whole lot easier in turn making me a whole lot dumber?

I really like to think it's not making me dumber. I'm still a genius, let's be honest. Also, the internet has put a multitude of references at my fingertips. I read so much more online than I ever would have hauled my ass to the library to read. I also have faster and more access to news, and not just from my neighborhood - from around the world. (Shout-out to Al-Jazeera and BBC News!) Also, apart from world news access, the internet keeps me up to date with politics and makes me a more active citizen. Beyond all that, the internet has enabled me to learn new skills that keep my brain alert. (Thanks, HTML for Dummies!) You could also argue that the time the internet saves me in doing mundane tasks leaves me with more time to learn... Although, to be frank, it probably just leaves me with more time to watch a sneezing panda vid on youtube or a DVR'd episode of What Not to Wear. (Shout-out to Stacey and Clinton!)

But I am willing to concede that the internet is probably making me lazier and more impatient. I'd expand on that thought but it would take way too long.

In his article, Carr notes that when the printing press was invented, naysayers thought it would make people dumber. (Books? Seriously? Come on.) So maybe this is all sound and fury. Don't get me wrong. I love the internet. No joke. It's my favorite. I don't know what I ever did without it. But it can't hurt to get reflexive every once in a while up in this electronic piece. Is Google making you stupid in more ways than it's making you smart? Food for thought. Well, actually, bite-sized snacks.

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