Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr
In the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid” an eminent American writer Nicholas Carr elucidates his ideas on artificial intelligence, deep reading issues, the way machines altered our thinking abilities and cognition. A technological utopianism antagonist incorporates Kubrick’s movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” into his essay. It showcases mechanization of humans as Carr is experiencing difficulties when reading. Trying to reach solid bedrock of the Internet’s interference with our consciousness he opens up about the problem of falling into the narrative. He cites many media personalities as well as merited writers, scientists, philosophers, professors and psychologists. Carr is not optimistic about the changes in mental and physical levels people undergo. But he acknowledges a beneficial facet of the Web recalling tedious research work in the library stacks. The name of the article is intertwined with the ambitions of the Google founders to create artificial intelligence on the basis of the ultimate search machine. Carr feels disturbed by the preach of humans’ brain insufficiency and computers transcendence. He winds up going back to Kubrick’s creation reflecting on merging with the machine intelligence.
Nicholas Carr, a prominent Harvard graduate, starts off with a reference to a sci-fi movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” comparing himself to a supercomputer losing it in the final scene. The emphasis here is placed on the fact that the machine CAN feel being shut down. The author started to notice the feeling of interference within his own brain as he was having difficulties with a concentration on long passages of text. As a writer and journalist, he has been using the Web for over 10 years. It sped up the research work process. But it also resulted in him perceiving information in an altered way as if he were forcing himself to read after 2-3 pages of the narrative. He supports his idea by citing to Marshall McLuhan stating that the Internet influences our brainwork and methods of acquiring data. It curtails not only concentration but also contemplation which gives pause for even greater concern. If a decade ago Carr was “diving” in the sea of words meaning deep reading, now he is “fleeting across the surface”.
The issue with focusing was not a solitary instance. Many friends of Carr confirmed a similar phenomenon. The majority of those are intellectuals no one would expect having problems with reading, but they confessed to not reading books anymore or switching to online sources. The author mentions Bruce Friedman (a pathologist, informatician, and blogger) who eloquently compares his reading ability to staccato. He only gives a very quick look at the text. The traditional way of reading is taking the back seat since online users hop from one link to the other perusing 1-2 pages maximum. This is a superficial reading or “skimming activity” as UCL scholars who undertook the Net users’ habits study named it. But against it, all Carr recognizes the accessibility of the Internet. He points out the fact people read much more today than in XX century prioritizing “efficiency” and “immediacy” and uses the work of Maryanne Wolf to reflect on the conflict developing from the contemporary priorities. Following her idea, the problem Carr and his friends are experiencing is the outcome of screen reading. It abated their capacity to abstract the mind from distractors and peruse deeply. The author proceeds with Wolf stating that tablets used for reading are of paramount importance in the building of neural pathways. Because neural circuitry can vary depending on a kind of language a person speaks the tools we use for knowledge work might also be critical. To help us understand this conception Carr refers to Nietzsche. His health concerns compelled him to shift to the typewriter. A great philosopher’s style of writing had slightly altered and was captured by a close friend deducing the following inference. Frequently our thinking process and its result hinge on the items or equipment we employ since our brain is pliable and capable of reprogramming itself. Carr rejects the misconception about the inflexibility of an adult human brain. The author is concerned with the people assimilating to the technology they are using as he observes a consistent pattern of it since the XIV century. With an introduction of the mechanical clock, the world started to obey its abstract order. People became dependent on the clock and commenced living as if they were mechanisms themselves with strict rules of what to do or not to do at a time. Now we may frequently hear our brain being entitled as a computer. It is a natural way of adapting to the new Net era but also these metaphors attest to the fact that our thought process is changing.
The Internet has proved to be an ultimate system. It comprises all the aspects of life leaving no other choice but to turn to it. But the author makes an observation on the oversaturation of the Net with its services leading to constant switching of activities, thus, no deep concentration. And as users become accustomed to it printed media conforms to the new type of thinking featuring bunch of shortcuts and less brain-racking way of news submission. Carr goes on to compare Industrial Revolution ideology and today’s Internet revolution. He mentions Frederick Taylor who hit upon the idea of splitting the working process into sequences and managing them in the most profitable way possible. His precise system of actions that scored regarding revenue is what the Web algorithm is doing today. But Carr intimates that just like Taylor’s vision of perfect efficiency is utopia so is the plot of technologies handling all the brain work for humans.
Towards the end of the article, Carr brings up the question of Google’s work. He finally hints at the article title implication. He quotes the actual founders of the company who try to elucidate the aspirations of Google which are organization, accessibility and custom selection of information. But the line is very thin and as search system picks what it thinks you want it automatically treats information as a manufactured article. And you as a computable model. Just what Taylor was doing for production workers. What is more perturbing from Carr’s perspective is the ambition of Google to turn search system into smarter than people AI. Carr does not appear an outspoken critic of this bold pursuit in the essay. But he highlights that human intelligence is not mechanical. Pulitzer Prize finalist reminds about the commercial behoof of any search system in us clicking as many links as possible. Not necessarily Google.
In the end, the author intelligibly delivers his main concern thorough Socrates (IV century BC) who augured people’s reliance on notes instead of actual knowledge. He laments with writing humans apply to the source for information without studying which results in self-delusion about being erudite. A similar concern is expressed by Hieronimo Squarciafico regarding commonplaceness of books. Unlike the great philosopher and humanist Carr points out the good of inventions as well. But he is greatly impressed by the finale of Kubrick’s film and persuades of the valuable and essential impact of traditional reading on our thinking. Carr crowns his essay with the call not to lose our sophisticated personality and soak into technology.