August 4th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; e-language and the human brain...

idiotgrrl alerted me to an article by Nicholas Carr on pp. 56-63 of the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" [and online at
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google .]

Carr's thesis is that using the Net has literally changed his cognitive wiring; he says on page 57 that he used to find it easy and pleasurable to read books and lengthy articles, but that now his concentration "often starts to drift after two or three pages" and that "The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle." And he claims (on page 58) that when he mentions this to his friends, they tell him they're experiencing the same thing. "The more they use the Web," he says, "the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing."

He admits that we don't yet have research studies that give us an accurate picture of the way Internet use affects cognition; he admits that complaints like the one he's making go back at least to Socrates, who worried that the development of writing would mean the destruction of human memory. But he compares the way e-language is constructed to the methods of Frederick Winslow Taylor, an efficiency expert who broke down every job on an assembly line into separate steps and created an algorithm for the work that vastly increased the factory's productivity. He says, on page 62, that the Internet is a machine designed for constructing and transmitting information, and that programmers are determined to find the perfect algorithm "to carry out every mental movement of what we've come to describe as 'knowledge work'."

I most certainly am not observing in myself the sort of change Carr describes in this piece. For at least the past half dozen years I've spent vast amounts of time reading online, and I am just as able to read lengthy printed material with ease and with pleasure as I've ever been.

I'd be very interested in hearing from you about this topic.