Is Google (or Microsoft) making you stupid?

There’s a very interesting article in The Atlantic from Nicholas Carr in which he argues that the information delivery model of the web (and, in particular, the search engine model) is robbing us of our ability to read and digest information, and consequently affecting the very way we think. Whether this turns out to be a good or a bad thing for the human race remains to be seen (unfortunately, there’s little chance of us being able to perform an A/B test on a segment of the population), but one paragraph of Nick’s article (which, yes, I did read in its entirety, all the while looking at the clock on my computer thinking that I should be getting on with something else), stood out for me (my highlights):

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. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. 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.

Unfortunately, I feel Mr Carr may have a point here, though as the methods for measuring behavior evolve (for example, by being able to factor in things like time spent looking at a page, rather than just clicks), this incentive may change (online publishers of long-form video, for example, absolutely want the user to sit in front of the same page for 20 minutes). But I don’t have time to analyze it further – my inbox is filling up.

4 thoughts on “Is Google (or Microsoft) making you stupid?

  1. This Nicholas Carr may have a point. But I’ll never know, I only read the first paragraph of your post…
    …thanks for calling this out, it will be interesting to see if we develop any new business models based on that deeper, more leisurely form of engagement.

  2. I think the article was spot on. I’ve been reading “The History of Salt” for the last two months and still haven’t finished!
    In reporting to management, I now provide executive summary, title and sub-titles, pull quotes and bullet points for content that runs less than two printed pages.

  3. Prof. Dr. Marie Luise Kiefer from Allensbach, Germany, has a theory that the web and search engines influence a broader part of the population (and children, teenagers of course) not to learn properly anymore, because it is always possible to search for the missing information. In her words: know where instead of knowledge.

Comments are closed.