Search engines’ function of providing us with information almost instantly means people are losing their intellectual capacity to store information, Nicolas Carr, said.The author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, claimed that the web was depriving our mental faculties of the regular workouts they need.He told the BBC that the internet meant people now found it harder to concentrate, for example when trying to read a book.
Right. I’m sure our addictions to overwork and accomplishment have nothing to do with our difficulty concentrating, not to mention the thousand-and-one other shiny objects and stimuli brought to our attention every day. And oh, how far we’ve fallen from the glory days of intellectual stimulation, when all we had to do for entertainment was watch TV and listen to our Walkmen. But didn’t those supposedly erode our attention spans too? Listening to the doomsayers, I’m surprised we’re able to do much more than drool and follow moving objects with our eyes after all these decades of technological bombardment of our fragile psyches.
But let’s leave aside the implausibility of studies being able to see significant effects on cognitive function in the short period of time that people have been using search engines. Just ask yourself the next time you start to type in a query: how would you have gone about trying to find this information before we had Google to use? Would you have driven to town to search for a needle of information in the haystack of a bookstore or library? Would you call some smart friend of yours, assuming you knew anyone who might have the answer? Or would you have just idly wondered for a moment before shrugging and forgetting about it?
And do you use this kind of information-gathering tool in the same way as a kid in school cheating on a test by copying off his neighbor’s paper? That is, do you simply look for the answer you need, write it down and promptly forget about it, learning nothing? Or when you search, do you find yourself following one or more of those, uh, brain-rotting links to more information on the topic than you even suspected existed? Who doesn’t have bookmarked pages of valuable information that was stumbled upon by accident? Who doesn’t have favorite writers online that they only found by following their nose (or perhaps we should say clicky finger) one day?
Clearly, something has impeded Carr’s ability to gather and process information, but I suspect that whatever it is, it predates the Internet.