Two Sticks or a Lighter?

Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” raises questions to the negative effects of internet usage. Carr claims the amount of information we are able to process is changing the way we have traditionally learned, read, and analyzed information. This is leaving us unable to concentrate on texts, and therefore making us stupid. The internet grants access to massive amounts of information which wouldn’t otherwise be readily available. Carr even agrees, “Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes” (Carr). The internet is actually helping scientists, researchers, and students’ process greater amounts of information faster, which leads to an improved intellectual society.

The World Wide Web allows for information to be shared, debated, and accepted at a quicker pace than any time in the past. Mankind has innovated ways to learn throughout history, and there have been doomsayers with each new innovation.  Socrates questioned the effects of the written word and the circulation of books. The printing press, typewriter, radio and television have raised similar questions in the past, but each are considered major progress points in human history. Today, unparalleled information is available to anyone with access to the computer and the internet. Information that is readily available is a good thing, even according to Carr, “The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer.” (Carr). The Web is allowing us to research, learn, and progress faster than any other time throughout human history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, educational attainment of the population is growing faster than any other time in U.S. history. Academic achievement in the form of a Bachelor degree has increased by twenty seven percent between the years of 1960 to 2003 (Stoops 2). This number continues to grow in correlation with the growth of the internet.  The internet is allowing people to complete degree programs faster than before by reducing the work load. A degree program can be completed in the comfort of home for the first time in history. Turning to another indicator we see similar evidence of a smarter society. Patent applications were increasing a substantial amount during the same time period.  According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office, an average of 4 million applications in the 1990s has increased to over 6 million applications filed in 2002 (U.S. Patent & Trademark Office 6).  Are the increased innovations and higher education degrees just a coincidence of the internet age?

According to Pew Research Center, “people’s use of internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter… Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid.” (Anderson 2). Humans have evolved from hunting and gathering for survival 12,000 years ago, to the current industrialized civilization. Each step being made with gained knowledge and progressive innovation. Advances in science, medicine and technology are increasing at the fastest rate ever recorded, with most of the progress happening within the last thirty years. History clearly shows humans have naturally learned through oral interactions and group discussion, even before the invention of the written words, books and the printing press. According to Dr. Trent Batson a Senior Contributing Editor for Campus Technology, “… [the web is] helping us re-claim our human legacy of learning through a rapid exchange of ideas in a social setting… making us smarter as we re-discover new ways to learn.”(Batson). He further states, “It is easy to criticize a new technology; it is much harder to understand how the new technology can help create new abilities in humans.”(Batson).

According to the Pew Research Center study “The resources of the internet and search engines will shift cognitive capacities. We won’t have to remember as much, but we’ll have to think harder and have better critical thinking.” (Anderson 7). Indeed, just having access to the information doesn’t do us any good unless the reader puts thought into the article. When we are searching for specific information, we browse the web and often are able to quickly find the information we seek, and through that discover other facets of information that we did not expect.  It is up to the reader to decide which bits of information to acknowledge and analyze. The internet is also opening up forums of communications for people to share, debate and comment on ideas, current events, and scientific theories from all over the world. Open dialogues allow people to learn from one another and compare ideas, and this form of learning is deeply rooted in human evolution.

 Can Carr keep up with the changing technology?  The US Census Bureau states that “The younger population is more educated than the older population” (Stoops 2). If we break down society into two groups we can gain a glimpse of enlightenment on this subject. Those who were born before the 1980s have had to adapt to a new form of technology in the information age. This group would have spent countless hours in the library poring over a limited stack of texts available, to find the same information that we can find on the internet in minutes on the internet. The younger generation never had to utilize the traditional methods, and instead focused on using the Web.  This difference has created an obvious gap in technological savvy between the two generations.

The internet is a tool that allows us to have information at our fingertips, but it is up the reader and our educational system to teach people how to analyze that information. Less memorization allows us to harness the analytical skills, which can lead to a smarter society. According to the Pew Research Center, “[by] 2020 it will be clear that the internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing and rendering knowledge.” (Anderson 2). Carr’s claim that we are suffering from power browsing through articles has removed our ability to put deep thought into texts, is untrue.  Carr says the internet is a distraction, a sea of endless notifications and hyperlinks. “Immersing myself in a book or lengthy article use to be easy… I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore.” (Carr). I doubt the accuracy of this statement, Carr may be suffering from an attention span, but he has recently completed two books in a short time period, all possible thanks to the internet and Google. According to Jamais Cascio who is considered one of the top one hundred global thinkers:

As the digital systems we rely upon become faster, more sophisticated and more capable, were becoming more sophisticated and capable too. It’s a form of co-evolution: we learn to adapt our thinking and expectations to these digital systems, even as the system designs become more complex and powerful to meet more of our needs-and eventually come to adapt to us (Cascio).

The evidence says we are evolving into a society of higher intelligence is largely due to unprecedented amounts of accessible information coupled with open sourced dialogue. The next step is enhancing the human brain to handle this more efficiently by continued innovation. Speeding up the process may be leaving traditions behind, but it is a natural step in human evolution. When was the last time you started a fire with two sticks?


1 Comment

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One response to “Two Sticks or a Lighter?

  1. I completely agree with this sentence: “The internet is a tool that allows us to have information at our fingertips, but it is up the reader and our educational system to teach people how to analyze that information.” I love the accessibility of information with technology however far too often I meet people who will base their point of view on one article without seeking out the opposite opinion. Technology makes polarization easier without discussion and that, as you point out, is an issue that is up to the reader and the education system.

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