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".