Reading Nicholas Carr’s article for the first time last semester really impacted me in a way that made me feel ashamed of myself. There are countless times when instead of looking up a word in the Oxford English Dictionary (which gives every meaning of each word as it is used in literature), I will type it into my Google search bar located conveniently to the right of my desktop. I admittedly do not even click on any of the links that come up for definitions of a word, rather, I will just do a cursory look at the first or second definitions that come up and assume it is the correct definition I need in the context of whatever I am reading. In fact, I have done this so many times that whenever I do not have access to the internet but do have access to a physical dictionary in the library, I grunt over the “work” and “concentration” it takes to look up a single word.
Even though looking up definitions of words is a simple act, I can already see how being able to Google any word quicker than physically looking it up impairs my patience with reading. My parents, who did not grow up in a technologically-driven culture, always made me look up definitions in a physical dictionary while growing up.
This is a piece that was taught in Expository Writing last semester, and as a tutor at the Plangere Writing Center I was constantly rereading Carr’s article to help students understand the correlation between the barrage and abundance of knowledge on the internet really impairing our comprehension and concentration skills. Because so many of us are constantly bombarded by advertisements, music, instant messaging, social media, etc. while we browse the internet, even if it is doing something “useful” yet cursory like looking up definitions of words, the direct contrast of having to sit down in a quiet room, alone in order to read a long book might really fluster and frustrate us because we are not used to so much “calmness” surrounding a task. We might feel unstimulated by the task at hand, even if reading a long book takes a lot of cognitive skill and concentration. I find the aforementioned example to be the best example to give students at Plangere because it is relevant in how many of my students admitted it was hard for them to stay in one place to read the entire Carr essay initially.
Google enables us to take a lot of “shortcuts” that do not get our brains working to their maximum potentials. We think we know a lot by “Google-ing” something when all we can really relay back is a paraphrased sentence of the first item that was returned in our searches on a certain topic. It is in taking these constant shortcuts through Google that we (myself most definitely included) delay development in concentration and discipline when doing work not concerning the internet. We also take for granted that this information is readily available whenever needed via SmartPhones and laptops, so we are less dedicated to committing information to memory because it is “easy to look it up” later. I do think Google is making us stupid, but we are taking the shortcut into a trap of overstimulation with negative cognitive side effects.