Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Is Google really responsible for our Stupidity?

"Is Google Making Us Stupid" was doing the rounds on the internet during July when it caught my eye and although I scanned the original article online I didn't spend too much time thinking about it. It wasn't until I was browsing the magazine rack at San Antonio airport waiting for my flight to Ohio that I took another look. The cover of the magazine shouted (in Google colours) at me in an American accent "Is Google Making us Stoopid?" and it took on a whole new meaning. When I had read the internet version, which Atlantic magazine's online version has spelled correctly BTW, in my Brit-derived Kiwi accent it didn't have quite the same impact as it did standing in Texas surrounded by the drawl, and emphasised by the print magazine's spelling. So I bought it to read on the plane.
The previous week I had spent a fantastic day at the Googleplex, surrounded by talented, and no doubt brainy, young people who seemed know just what they were doing and where they were taking the world, so it was difficut to conceptualise how these people could be responsible for making us 'stoopid'. In my experience we are quick to blame all manner of things for our stoopidity, with pregnancy and breastfeeding being favourites of mine. And I notice recently that some folk are quick to quip 'senior moment' anytime they are caught being stoopid - an insult to my lucid grandparents and probably yours. But I failed to make the connection with Google. What on earth have they done to us?
Fortunately the flight was long enough for me to read the magazine and no internet was available to distract me so I gave the article a thorough perusing. Apparently "the more (we) use the Web, the more (we) have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing". Are we really such shallow creatures? Or are we just increasingly busy? I know that last year when I had 12 months released from school as an eFellow to conduct a research project it took a while to really focus on some of the materials I chose for my lit review. But was that the fault of Google, the authors of the documents or just my own fault for not making a priority of reading serious non-fiction in recent years? This is beginning to resemble the food industry with fast-food chains being blamed for our weight problems and lack of fitness.
And what is wrong with being stoopid anyway? One of the wonderful things about working with young children is the way they all know they are so clever. I love seeing the kids in the 5 and 6 year old classes reach around and pat themselves on the back and say 'Clever me' when they have done something they think is good. What a shame that people or life change these kids from knowing they are clever to a time when they feel stupid and even worse have to blame someone else for it because they know they weren't stupid when they were young. I do hope it is not school that makes us stoopid!
I am sure I am not the first to answer Atlantic magazine and the author Nicholas Carr's question, "Is Google making us stoopid?" with "No stupider than we already were".


  1. Great post! I haven't read the article myself so I may have got this completely wrong but,

    I don't know that it is Google exactly that is making us 'stoopid'. I don't believe that we as people are becoming more 'stoopid'. However, we have a whole lot more available to entertain (or distract) us now - like the internet... in my uni days (in which Google was already available but not so widely accessed) I can remember people would come in to my room and say oooohhhhhhhh you have a lot of work due haven't you - check out how tidy your room is! Today we still struggle to immerse ourselves in lengthy texts. However, we do have Google, Twitter, email, Facebook to make it far easier to not do what we are supposed to be doing. Really pleased to hear it took another eFellow a long time to get in to the reading of texts for the lit review! I have a STACK of books so plenty of places to start... yet here I am spending the supposedly best learning time of my day commenting on a blog post I found via twitter. Does it make me 'stoopid'??? (actually ask me the night before the research is due then I will probably say yes!)

  2. I read the article online and I have to agree and say that I don't think it's making us "stoopid/stupid" at all. In fact, as someone who was already a prolific reader, I feel I am reading a lot more if you add my online reading to my more traditional book & magazine formats. I also find that I spend hours persuing topics that catch my interest, following links across the internet and exploring topics in depth.
    I've also discovered that I am reading more widely, especially in terms of the online material I'm reading. I've read about all kinds of things/topics that I might not otherwise have read in more conventional form.
    It hasn't had any impact on my ability to read lengthy texts either. A lot of what I've read online is quite lengthy. and the book I'm currently reading is 922 pages long - the 4th in a series I'm reading & all 4 are about the same length.
    Thanks to Google and the internet I have also been made aware of a wide range of non fiction texts that I may not have heard of otherwise. I have then gone on to locate these and read them for myself e.g. "The Word is Flat" which I hadn't even heard of less than a year ago.
    I think that perhaps written material may need to be presented in different ways in order to engage a more diverse audience.
    What about things like audio texts? Does it matter that we plug in and have something read to us? Does this perhaps make people less intelligent?
    Then again, I'm looking at this from the perspective of a teacher, a bookworm and a self confessed geek, it may be that my perspective is different from someone who is less inclined to read.
    One thing I have noticed though is that people do tend to skim for information rather than reading deeply, often missing the most important ideas or information. Is this a result of Google and the like? Maybe, but I'm not so sure, I recall any number of the people i went to high school with when all we had was MS Dos and a some Turtle Logo, who would skim across print based material and not read deeply. So is it really a "Google generation" thing? Or is it simply a case of, same issue, same types of people, different format?
    Another thought - are we equipping our students with the skills and tools to utilise this media appropriately? Or is some of the problem that they are simply being sent off into the vast land of "Internet" with no idea of where to start or how to go about gathering the information that they need?
    Thanks for the great blog post, I have a lot to think about and research further.

  3. Google is making information more accessible. It is also making it easier to rely on as an extension of our collective memory.

    I do know that there is no one among us who could remember all that Google indexes so it is making us smarter. But, when working with my students I often feel that calculators have made them less able to do simple math in their heads. So are calculators making us stupid?

    Spell check is another instance of a computer tools that helps. I do feel it has made me smarter because when I misspell a word I get instant feedback and easily and quickly correct my mistakes.

    So.... as long as we have acces to Google it is making us smarter but when we don;t have access it is making us stupid. I guess.... hold on a minute while I google smart and stupid....