“Is Google making us stupid?” So freelance technology writer Carr (The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, 2008, etc.) asked in a 2008 article in the Atlantic Monthly, an argument extended in this book.
The subtitle is literal. In the interaction between humans and machines, the author writes, machines are becoming more humanlike. And, “as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.” Carr provides evidence from batteries of neuroscientific research projects, which suggest that the more we use the Internet as an appendage of memory, the less we remember, and the more we use it as an aide to thinking, the less we think. Though the author ably negotiates the shoals of scientific work, his argument also takes on Sven Birkerts–like cultural dimensions. The Internet, he complains, grants us access to huge amounts of data, but this unmediated, undigested stuff works against systematic learning and knowledge. Yale computer-science professor David Gelernter has lately made the same arguments in a more gnomic, but much shorter, essay now making the rounds of the Internet. This privileging of the short and bullet-pointed argument to the considered and leisurely fits into Carr’s theme as well. He observes that with RSS, Twitter, Google and all the other cutely named distractions his computer provides, he has become a less patient and less careful reader of key texts that require real work. It’s a sentiment that one of his subjects, a philosophy major and Rhodes Scholar, brushes aside, saying, “I don’t read books…I go to Google, and I can absorb relevant information quickly.” Ah, but there’s the rub—how can a novice know what’s relevant?
Similar in spirit to Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget (2010)—cogent, urgent and well worth reading.