Is Google Making Us Stupid? Illustration by Guy Billout. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep- space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial . Over the past few years I.
I can feel it most strongly when I. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy.
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My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I. 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.
The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. For more than a decade now, I. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they. As the media theorist Marshall.
Mc. Luhan pointed out in the 1. 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. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances.
The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a . Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. And we still await the.
Internet use affects cognition. But a recently. published study. University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five- year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.
K. They found that people using the sites exhibited . They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would . The authors of the study report. It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of . It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense. When we read online, she says, we tend to become .
We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains.
Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches.
He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch- typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. When I sit down to write a letter or start the first draft of an article, I simply type on the keyboard and the words appear on the screen.. Kittler , Nietzsche.
People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 1. But brain researchers have discovered that that. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind . The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 1. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis. Mumford . But it also took something away. As. the late MIT computer scientist Joseph.
Weizenbaum . The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating .
In a paper published in 1. British mathematician Alan. Turing . The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It injects the medium. A new e- mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we.
The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration. Television programs add text crawls and pop- up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy- to- browse info- snippets. When, in March of this year, The. New York Timesdecided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to.
Tom Bodkin, explained that the . Old media have little choice but to play by the new- media rules. With the approval of Midvale. By breaking down every job into a sequence of small, discrete steps and then testing different ways of performing each one, Taylor created a set of precise instructions. Seeking maximum speed, maximum efficiency, and maximum output. The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1.
The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the . And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the . Google, says its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is . Drawing on the terabytes of behavioral data it collects through its search engine and other sites, it carries out thousands of experiments a day, according to the Harvard Business Review, and it uses the results to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind.
The company has declared that its mission is . The more pieces of information we can .
Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL- like machine that might be connected directly to. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt. 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. 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. The idea that our minds should operate as high- speed data- processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network. The faster we surf across the Web. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link.
The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue.
The arrival of Gutenberg. The Italian humanist Hieronimo. Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, . 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. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author.
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 . In a recent essay, the playwright Richard. Foreman . What makes it so poignant, and so weird, is the computer.
Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they. In the world of 2.