Nicolas Carr wrote a fabulous essay in the Atlantic in 2008, which is still, or even more, relevant today. It was entitled, "Is Google Making us Stupid?" Having access to the "world's information at your fingertips" at first glance seems like a great idea--the more you know and all that good stuff.
However, media theorist Marshall McLuhan noted in the 1960s that the "medium is the message." The internet is beginning to change how we think, simply because of its addictive, hyperlink structure. Although it may be a boon for a writer or researcher--being able to find resources, quotes, facts in seconds--as a reader, it sends people on wild (but often fun) goose chases all over a virtual landscape.
Scholars at University College London conducted a five-year research program and found that people using the British Library and a U.K. educational consortium of journals, ebooks and other resources, found most people only read a page or two before jumping to another resource. They were skimming or "power browsing," seemingly trying to find quick answers to their questions.
Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University, described our internet reading
style as efficient and immediate; people are now "mere decoders of information." Deep reading that creates rich mental connections are nowhere to be found.
What's powerful about the medium of the internet, a computer system, is its all-consuming nature. It has swallowed up all the old technologies and reshaped and reformed them in its unique image: it is now a map, clock, printing press, typewriter, calculator, phone, radio and TV, according to Carr.
Interestingly enough, even Socrates (in Plato's Phaedrus) bemoaned the development of writing. He worried that the information that previously was stored in their heads would now remain only in written form. People would "cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful." Although some of his fears were founded, other wonderful benefits, such as expanding human knowledge and spreading ideas, made up for that loss. Similarly, the Gutenberg printing press in the 15th century brought along similar concerns: books would lead to intellectual laziness and weaken their minds, as well as "undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery." Of course, much of that did come to pass, but as did a myriad of benefits to society.
So in the end, are fears concerning the internet as unfounded as writing or the printing press? Perhaps. But Carr warns us, using Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, by saying that as we rely more on computers to understand the world, the more our intelligence becomes more robotic and artificial. Our humanity may be at stake the more we strive to achieve this superior or artificial intelligence. And wouldn't you know it, Larry Page told scientists at a convention that Google is "really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale."
Source: Utopia is Creepy and other Provocations, Nicolas Carr, 2016
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.