The invention of Gutenberg’s press was met with “claims that the printing press, if not controlled, would lead to chaos and the dismemberment of European intellectual life” (Shirky 1). Some people become anxious with new changes that throw out the restrictions that once was the norm. This, however, happens again and again throughout our history. “Every increase in freedom to create or consume media,” brings forecast of impending “chaos and intellectual collapse.” Our modern technology is changing the way our brains work. We no longer need to remember anything our tech does that for us. There seems to be a form of amnesia affecting us; the internet has changed the way we function.
The way our brains have changed, from the use of the Web, is debated over and has yielded very different outcomes. Gary Small, a neuroscientist, professor, and author studied the effect that Internet searching had on the brain. Twenty-four participants were studied with half having “no Internet search experience,” the brains of the other half that regularly used the Internet showed an elevation in stimulation of the “regions associated with complex reasoning and decision-making” (qtd in Munro 4). The participants who were “Internet novices” had similar results in their “frontal lobes” after five days. Using technologies has influenced our brains, Small argues, the “brain shifts towards and is energized by, new technological skills.” This sounds good, however, as we rely more and more on our tech we become “intellectually lazy” (Munro, 2). Shirky states that “the Net, in fact, restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture” (3). The Net has greatly assisted people with their research, having search results appear instantly instead of days of going through the library. Subsequently, not reading as we used to has had a price. Carr shares his struggle, “Now my concentration often starts to drift . . . I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do” (1). The concentration we once had has changed, our brains forever altered.
The Internet propels users from one place to another, making it difficult to concentrate on the task of simply reading. Carr admits, “I can’t read War and Peace anymore . . . even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it” (2). There is a “new form of reading” that has become more prominent in users of the Web, this “skimming activity” shows how our brains have been changed. A study was carried out by scientists at the University College London to see how our minds have changed when it comes to reading and thinking. During the five years of study two sites collected data on user’s behavior during visits to their sites, this produced results showing users bounced around the Net rarely re-visiting pages they previously had been to. It is thought that this “style of reading promoted by the Net . . . may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading . . . “(Wolf qtd in Carr 2) that once was customary. The neural circuitry of our brains has been studied when it comes to those readers that have an alphabet compared to those with ideograms as their written language, it revealed the brain of the ideogram learner was vastly different. The sections that govern “cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli” (Carr 3) had the circuitry interlaced differently. Our concentration is now a struggle, what will the Internet propel us toward next?
We were propelled into an age of technologies. These were supposed to save us time and labor. Munro’s opinion is that “modern marvels are less labour-savers than brain-savers” (1). The early technologies were meant to help us with the mundane daily task, “automatic washing machines, dishwashers, drive-through car washes,” but with these, it granted an excess of free time, the time we squandered with frivolous mind numbing activities. Today’s advancements in technology have introduced us into an endless source of instant gratification. Take our cell phones, for example, they are now responsible for holding all our important information (i.e. numbers, addresses, meaningful dates) we no longer need to remember anything for ourselves. The connection is constant, “Google can connect us to a source-any source-within a fraction of a second” and with that why do we need to remember anything? Those things that were once etched into our brains, like our phone numbers, is now outsourced to our technology. Robert Fitzgerald, associate dean at the University of Canberra says, “There is indeed a dumb side to technology” (qtd in Munro 2). He ponders if the searches his children complete yield something positive or if it’s a “hit-and-miss.” “Is Google making us stupid?” asked Carr (2). The answer is not so simple, but “if not making us stupid, as such, Google seems to be making us intellectually lazy.” Perhaps, our technologies will bring forth great positive changes or maybe leave us with “digital amnesia” (Harris 1).
“The Google Effect” takes hold of so many of us, reaching our brains, inflicting its “digital amnesia” upon us (Harris 1). In 2011, an experiment conducted at Columbia and Harvard Universities brought theories that technology is reshaping the way we think and learn. Within our daily lives, some of us have come to heavily depend on “Google” to provide us with aid. From “spell check” to “auto fill” the decision we have made to use these “electronic aids” has “[affected] our capacity to learn and execute daily tasks.” No longer do we need to use our own memory, Google does it quicker and better, we get the answers faster and finish sooner. The information is recent but our comprehension of that information is lost. The abilities we “traditionally [gained] through repetition and rote memorization” are now impaired. This “brain dump” that occurs makes it difficult for an answer to be given, we must “get back” to someone because who needs to remember that? This dependency on Google is potentially harmful, allowing the tech to take over our minds, our work, making us inept to handle problems without it. The inflictions that “The Google Effect” has had on us needs to be turned around, a middle ground found, to ensure the future of technology and “our analytical ability and intellectual capacity” (2) remains intact
Our tech will continue to grow and prosper, and continue to alter our minds, the way our brains think and learn. In the future, we will look back and find this tech to be distorted and the new tech will “be more intuitive, more integrated, more intelligent” (Munro 4). We can only wait and see if “our intelligence ultimately might reveal itself in the smarts of those same technologies,” (5). If we no longer dive deeper than the surface of information what will we be missing out on? What will we pass over and never come to know of? Carr describes a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” where the artificial intelligence is being disconnected, pleading for his life, feeling his memory slipping away, the human Dave continues to disconnect his memory circuits without a second thought (1). Showing a cold artificial side that technology could be inflicting on us, turning the tables and switching our roles. This new evolutionary journey will be full of struggle for we still have so far to go. This tech revolution has just begun and I can only hope we come out of it with our minds capable of our human emotion and not unfeeling as though we are an artificial intelligence. The world around us changes and so must we but let’s hold on to our humanity, use our “God-given” abilities to expand our minds and let’s not take the easier way, use our brains allowing it to grow and produce great works of art, literature, and advancements in all fields of study. Don’t let the technology do it all by itself.
Nicholas Carr. “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains”
Harris, LTC Corey W. “The ‘Google’ paradox: is technology making us smarter?” The Free Library. 2016 American Society of Military Comptrollers 03 Mar. 2017 https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+%22Google%22+paradox%3a+is+technology+making+us+smarter%3f-a0457561687
Munro, Peter. Is technology eating our brains? Sunday Age, The (Melbourne), 10341021, Feb 08, 2009
Shirky, Clay. “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?”. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition. 6/5/2010, Vol. 255 Issue 130, pW1-W2. 2p.
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