MDW #2

by cjcoughlin

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I consider myself a “reader”, but I’ve been having a bit of a crisis lately when it comes to the act of reading itself. I finish a chapter, or even an entire book, and as I set it aside I ask myself “What did I just read?” I sometimes couldn’t explain what I just read. There’s a breakdown between what I see and what my brain is processing, so when I started reading Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, I felt a sense of relief. Now I know I’m not the only one.

I was initially struck by the irony of an author bemoaning his inability to process lengthy reads in a multi-page article that spanned around thirty-six paragraphs, but as I read on, I realized it’s not the act of reading that we’re relying on: it’s the medium. I agree with Scott Karp, a colleague  of Carr, who pontificated on our altered thought patterns:

“What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

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Carr argues that we’re just skimming content because our brains aren’t equipped to work at the speed of search engines, which are the underpinnings of the Internet.

In opposition to Carr’s article, Carl Knerr, in “No, Google, is not Making us Stupid”, claims that our brains haven’t rewired themselves. We’re simply finding the info using different methods and in turn, processing that info in new ways:

“Google, as the face of the Internet, is not looking to grow profit by changing the way you think. Instead, they charge a utilization fee (in the form of advertising) for plugging into their grid of knowledge.”

I’m not sure who I agree with more; I’m leaning towards Carr because the phenomenon he’s experiencing is something I’ve found myself grappling with while trying to process print media. I’m far from a technophobe, but it is a bit disconcerting to think about how information is processed by our brains, especially among younger people. Books aren’t dying, but popular culture’s interest in them sure is.

Reading the recommended articles and watching the videos for this assignment was a bit refreshing, as these are ideas and problems I’ve recently encountered. Eli Pariser’s TED talk about the danger of online “filter bubbles” brings to light an important distraction when viewing news:

“Yahoo News, the biggest news site on the Internet, is now personalized — different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times — all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

Web culture has evolved to provide a myopic view of the world, centered around convenience and a desire to get granular amounts of information. The articles referenced above present ideas about how to digest that information and if it is affecting our ability process what we’re presented with, or in the case of Pariser, what we choose to present ourselves with. Taking these ideas into account, I can’t say for sure why we might be feeling dumber, but it might not be Google’s fault.

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