I read an article today by Nicholas Carr called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"
The gist of it is that we're transitioning from a thoughtful, deep-thinking society (i.e. one that reads books) to one which demands instant gratification and mere soundbites of surface-level knowledge gleaned from skimming our favorite websites as fast as possible. We're somehow losing an important ability to concentrate on and/or appreciate good writing.
My own view is that the internet lets you learn as quickly as you're able; to focus on the things that matter to you and skip the noise. But I'll come back to my own thoughts in a minute.
The article generated some activity on the website for Edge magazine, where extremely smart people discuss thorny issues. I was very happy to see my new hero Clay Shirky there, tearing into Carr's article.
Shirky makes a wonderful point: "The threat isn’t that people will stop reading War and Peace. That day is long since past. The threat is that people will stop genuflecting to *the idea* of reading War and Peace."
George Dyson adds, "We will certainly lose some treasured ways of thinking but the next generation will replace them with something new...Perhaps books will end up back where they started, locked away in monasteries (or the depths of Google) and read by a select few."
My own take is this: I have learned an awful lot, very quickly, from the internet. In the last year alone, I stumbled onto and become very interested in (and enlightened by) the world of Complex Adaptive Systems and some of the thinking adjacent to it (such as Edge.com and TED.com). Without the internet, I'd never have heard about any of this because I wasn't lucky enough to get into it at University. Without the internet, even if I *were* aware of the field, I wouldn't have any way to dig into it because I have a full-time job and a family, which together don't leave me with endless days to spend in the library, hunting for relevant texts and then reading them in one sitting.
The problem is not that the internet makes information available to us too conveniently - that's a feature, not a bug! The problem is that we're missing good tools to organize, retain, and leverage the flood of useful info. More and better information is available to each of us than ever before. It's no surprise that we each eventually hit a limit of what our brains can handle - the need to enlist tools to ride the storm isn't something to be ashamed of, it's something to welcome.
To come full circle, I suppose my bottom line question is this: If Carr thinks that our use of the internet is making us stupid -- why did he put his article there?