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Is Google making us stupid?

We are now into week four of edcmooc and looking at transhumanism. The videos and readings, as always, are interesting and thought provoking. However, it was this article that I was drawn to as it is something I have often thought about. However, I hadn’t thought of it in the way that Nicholas Carr had with his take on how Google has changed the way we write and process information. I am constantly on-line in someway through work, study or personal stuff. I read a lot and definitely skim read but then I have always done this. Or at Ieast I think I have but maybe technology has affected my perception and memory! No, what I mean is when you have one of those conversations that start “you know who I mean”. “The one that did that film”. “You know! He was married to what’s her face”. And so it goes on. Nowadays I just Google it and the office is then filled with cries of “oh him”!

What did we do before? We used our brains, our memories, asked people or just gave up when it drove you to distraction. Often it would come to you hours or days later after you had stopped thinking about it. My Nan has a really useful way of remembering something, she just recites the alphabet and hopes this triggers her memory. It does work but its speed and efficiency is not as good as Google. Sorry Nana! This is something that Nick Bostrom, in his piece Transhumanist Values, would consider to be a human limitation

I once spent an entire train journey from London to Cornwall (6 hours) trying to find out which actor my friend was referring to in the absence of wifi and Google. When she couldn’t remember his name she tried to describe what TV programme he was in which then meant we had to remember what it was. We couldn’t so we then had to remember the name of the film he was in, no success. The name of his famous wife, we couldn’t. The name of the films she had been in, nope. The people they had starred with, no luck there. And the name of their films, still nothing. We only got it in the end by texting a friend, definitely not efficient. If I had had wifi we would have got it within 3 minutes even if we had to type in really vague search criteria. Maybe 50 years ago we could afford this luxury of time to figure stuff out but today…….

It also showed me how much I rely on Google. Does it worry me? Not really because I still remember a world without Google and possess some of the intellectual skills to do without it. But I would rather not as I could be spending time doing something else or finishing another task.

But then is it a bad thing? Are we thinking badly or differently? Skim reading isn’t necessarily a bad thing and has advantages such as getting an overview of many sources in a short space of time. You may think you are not taking it in but you probably are.

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Using Google to search instead of trying to remember doesn’t mean your memory will fail just as referring to an encyclopaedia or dictionary won’t damage it.

And searching on Google when you are trying to remember something, and don’t have specific keywords, is an art form in itself. Maybe this is the way the brain needs to evolve in order to serve us in the future. Or is it that the world will evolve to match our changing brains.

Ultimately, the human, society, education etc have evolved and things have adapted to keep up. In his article Carr writes,

“The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds”.

Well this easy availability of books revolutionised the world and things changed to absorb this new “technology”.

Carr suggests that we are not reading as in depth as before and that this is changing our brains but I think we are also learning new talents. People are now writing more. Normally this would have been the preserve of scholars, authors, experts etc, but now anyone can write a blog, post an opinion or set up their own website. Think of the creativity and good stuff we would have missed out on if this was denied us. Obviously not all of these items are to our taste, right or legal but I guess that it is the price we have to pay for the good stuff. And once again we have adapted to absorb this eg changed laws to accommodate new types of media and resulting crimes.

We shouldn’t underestimate the power of the human brain as it can change, survive and thrive and perhaps has to for us to evolve.

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9 Comments

  1. Great point on the resistance to technology in Carr quote referencing the opposition to the printing press. I totally agree the internet has made information accessible and gave many people the opportunity to share their voice and opinions.

    I too skim much more. I don’t believe I am less intelligent (although many may differ) but I do think it has contributed to my ADD as I am easily distracted moving from tidbit to tidbit. So after figuring out who that actor that I can’t remember was through a google search I then jump to 5 different articles about what she is doing now and what happen to the rest of the cast.

    • hummelsiep says:

      I agree with the ADD as I also flit from one thing to another. Sometimes this is a good thing as I discover new things along he way. It can be a disadvantage at work as I can start 10 jobs and not complete one!

  2. Yogita says:

    I don’t inherently believe that the google is making us stupid, to your point, on having to adapt and use skilful search strings when looking for information, and yet I do agree with Carr and other citations in the article, that we are indeed becoming perhaps more “pan-cake” like horizontally stretched beings, instead of being vertically tall, indepth being. Where it took some mastery to have depth – see Michael Tipping Point, needing 10 000 hours, challenges this almost new normal of instantaneous “knowledge”. It’s a bit like an MBA vs a specific Masters – MBA width across business, specific Masters is depth into a subject.

    I love reading, and unfortunately, also found that Im distracted by tech – my phone beeps, and I immediately turn to see the message, and then perhaps engage in that conversation…”thinning” my previously absorbed reading.

    And yet, I’ve since become a believer that life’s too short to waste on anything, including bad literature. So I will skim, if its interesting enough I will come back, if not its tossed. I don’t owe the author my time at all, and move to engage with something more worthwhile.

    Do you remember the board games Trivial Pursuit and 30 Seconds? You had to think on your feet, have a fairly broad general knowledge and be able to use clues of seemingly disparate information to sense make – what the image shows us, the mind making sense of what seems inherently senseless…now I doubt anyone will play those games, and it would probably include a timer for “wait let me google that”

    • hummelsiep says:

      Funnily enough I never had the patience for trivial pursuit! I agree, I too am distracted by various pings, rings and notifications, but I like the way you describe it as not a bad thing. I think if something really deserves my full concentration and interest I will make the time for it.

  3. Ilzele says:

    I cannot stop wondering how much sense it makes to talk about these changes in the way we process information as “better” or “worse”. I would say that it’s simply “different”. As our brains adapt to the changing information space we both gain and lose something compared to the previous state. That whether it was ultimately an improvement or not can be determined only in hindsight and even then the conclusions will depend on what aspects we’re focusing on.

    • hummelsiep says:

      Good point. I think it’s like anything, if you look back you often view it fondly and better and looking forward as negative. My nan often says that she feels sorry for young people growing up in this world. Despite living through WW2, and being bombed, she still thinks they had it better. Different is a better way of describing it and sometimes, in hindsight, it will turn out better, sometimes worse a d sometimes even just the same. Who know. You will have to ask your grandchildren!

  4. 7yukari7 says:

    I don’t think Google is making us stupid. From my own experience of writing a degree paper I can say some ideas anout Google
    1) It resembles searching a book in the library – you need always to define, is found indormation valuable and credible or not
    2) it fastens some routine tasks. I can hardly imagine that people could earlier do such tasks like counting all uses of some word in a text or searching for quotations manually.
    3) In many cases it gives only “first layer” on information. To dig deeper I need spend much time or use other sourses. But for first-level search, for the beginning of writing something, it is very useful. (To say with different words, “students can find via Google 99% of information they need, and post-graduates – 50%” — just from my own experience))
    4) There are some kind of knowlege that cannot be Googled. Something related to traditions, rituals, folklore is alive only when learned personally, from a master or teacher to a stuent. There is some kind of “alive knowledge”.

    • Nat Nelson says:

      I like your thoughts on Google and the “alive” knowledge you refer to. I agree Google isn’t making us stupid but allowing access to so many different things. It is up to us to use it wisely.

  5. natnelson19 says:

    […] world around us changes surely our brains and methods for processing information also changes. I blogged about this after reading am article about the possibility of Google making us stupid. education is […]

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