Instant gratification takes its toll

Nick Carr asks, "Is Google making us stupid?"

The rise of the internet has given us access to unparalleled amounts of information. So much so that some people have begun to rely on the web as an intellectual crutch rather than the powerful educational tool that it is. The attitude seems to be that if it's on the internet, it's not worth taking the time to learn, the information will still be there tomorrow. As if the web can be relied upon as a supplementary brain, a communal mind that can cure ignorance with the click of a button.

This information overload leaves us constantly skimming, giving superficial readings to countless discrete units of information. If deemed worthy, an article might hold our attention for a few paragraphs. But there's no longer room for a writer to take any liberties. You'd better get to the point quickly, or it's on to the next thing.

This is a symptom of a greater problem. For years theorists have postulated that the way we think is inextricably linked to the technology of the day. The invention of the clock changed the way that we understood time, and in a very real way the internet is changing the way that we think about information. 

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements . . . The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
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18 comments on the article “Instant gratification takes its toll”

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S. Wolf

I don't think he's entirely correct. Yes, the Internet is changing the way we do things, including how we think - or fail to. Consider Wikipedia which someone mentioned. Where I work, you'd be laughed out the door if you cited that as an authoritative source. Yet a generation is growing up thinking this is the Gospel Truth. The idea of going to a library and looking through two or three sources to confirm the first's data just doesn't enter into peoples' minds any more.

Or consider a sign printed by computer in a cafeteria where I work. Only a few lines of large-font text. There were five typos/spelling mistakes. We trust machines to do our thinking for us, even when it's plain they can't do so reliably.

It's also changing the way we interact. People now socialize via computer instead of face-to-face. How is this an improvement?

S. Wolf

I don't think he's entirely correct. Yes, the Internet is changing the way we do things, including how we think - or fail to. Consider Wikipedia which someone mentioned. Where I work, you'd be laughed out the door if you cited that as an authoritative source. Yet a generation is growing up thinking this is the Gospel Truth. The idea of going to a library and looking through two or three sources to confirm the first's data just doesn't enter into peoples' minds any more.

Or consider a sign printed by computer in a cafeteria where I work. Only a few lines of large-font text. There were five typos/spelling mistakes. We trust machines to do our thinking for us, even when it's plain they can't do so reliably.

It's also changing the way we interact. People now socialize via computer instead of face-to-face. How is this an improvement?

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