Friday, June 20, 2008

Have we been run over by our search engines?

An article in the current issue of The Atlantic posits the idea that the internet is remolding the way we read — and ultimately the way we think. See “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicolas Carr.

The speculation shouldn’t surprise us. All major technological changes in the way we communicate reshape us in some way.

The inventions of the written word, the printing press, the telegraph, the television and now the internet all changed how we think.

The written word allowed knowledge to be recorded, eliminating the need for it to be memorized and passed on orally, and often inaccurately.

The printing press allowed that knowledge to be widely shared and led to the need for literacy and greater knowledge.

The telegraph freed communication for the constraints of the time needed to carry messages across physical space.

Television (and film and photographs) undermined rational, sequential thinking and tapped into non-verbal emotions and the subconscious. (Question: How do you "read" a picture?)

The internet has made vast (and overwhelming) amounts of information and knowledge instantly available.

They all to various degrees resulted in "media addiction."

McLuhan was right, of course: The medium is the message. As new media are invented, the very nature of messages change. And that change changes us as we struggle to understand.

So, is Google making us stupid?

The question begs for a “yes” or “no” answer. But the real answer is somewhere between — or above, or below — those extremes. The Internet is "remaking" us. It’s up to us to figure out how, what the changes mean to us as individuals, as a culture, as a species, and what, if anything, we can do about it.

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