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.

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.