Taking the Google Brain Offline

When I don’t know something, I Google it. I seek answers on the Internet at home, at work and in the grocery store. It’s instant gratification to get the answer quickly and move on.

When I want to know what’s going on in the world, I pull up an online news site. The organized front page features the latest headlines scrolling through a live feed. With the click of button, I can get my news in less than five minutes. I am smarter now. The Internet expands my brain and wealth of knowledge. Or so I thought…

A recent NPR article, “‘The Shallows’: This Is Your Brain Online” introduced me to Nicholas Carr and quelled my intellectual confidence. The article describes the Internet as a medium based on interruptions, which is changing the way our brains function. Now I have to wonder, is the Internet making me stupid?

Nicholas Carr New BookNicholas Carr suggests the ability to process information and acquire wisdom is damaged by Internet usage. You might remember Carr as the writer of the 2008 Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, which garnered a lot of media attention on and offline. Earlier this month he released a book inspired by the same ideas, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

Carr began researching after he noticed a decline in his ability to concentrate when reading printed books and articles. The research was based on how Internet usage may influence information processing when we are offline. His findings explain we have trouble concentrating when reading a book because our brains want to be interrupted—want to Google, click on links and define words. We have trained our brains to read in “scan mode”, gathering what we think we need, clicking to the next page and leaving the rest. Many studies Carr uses to support his argument have found reading comprehension is lower online than from a printed page. It’s disheartening to think we may be carrying our poor comprehension skills to the printed page.

Carr “views the advent of the Internet as ‘not just technological progress but a form of human regress.’” While Carr’s views seem a bit extreme (or perhaps I’m in denial) he does bring up an interesting, well-supported argument.

You can read his blog online, RoughType.com or test your concentration by reading his new printed book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (order online).