BP#4: Search Engines and Us

In this weeks readings (not the new set in Communication Design) I found there to be an interesting split in perception of technology and information abundance. On one hand we have individuals like Nicholas Carr who puts forward an argument that the Internet changes the way our brain works in a negative way. On the other there are people such as William Turkel who take Internet and information abundance as a blessing we’re using sub optimally. Though I’m focussing on Carr here, that Turkel piece is really useful and I recommend everyone at least try to optimize their browser in a similar way.

Carr and many others believe the way we are exposing ourselves to information is leading our brains to work differently and create connections in simpler or more pronounced ways, and this element of ‘nuance’ or dedication that could in the day of the printing press come easily to us is now retired. I initially wanted to point out this article in particular because I don’t believe it to be a big deal or some kind of irreparable change in our brains. Carr has come to attribute his lack of attention span to the immediacy and direct satisfaction we get from searching things on a massive search engine. Absolutely anything we want is at our fingertips. I suppose fundamentally I agree with this notion, and even if I didn’t, I couldn’t deny that he and others feel this way for more than just no reason, there has to be some truth to it. Humans, in my opinion, have always been efficiency oriented, and while we haven’t always achieved it, the internet is as close as we have gotten so far to ‘instant results’ or immediate knowledge.

I am reserved about being fully on-board with Carr because there is a growing movement of people who actually believe in the headline that google is ‘making us stupid’, and this article really only serves as ammunition for those thinkers who typically use it to tear the internet down. I can agree with the nature of how we spend our day to day lives focused on immediacy altering how our brains process things, but this is mostly a matter of using something to an excess, and if for example Carr chose to balance his internet intake with Earnest Hemingway or Nietzche in his daily information diet he would not be so dependent on it or incapable of focusing for more than an hour. Personally I make a point of not being so dedicated to a single thing that I end up having such dependence, but I know of many people who face exactly what Carr says.


In this articles’ case I believe Carr highlights a real ‘problem’, though I don’t believe he actually addresses any solutions, nor do I believe its the end of the world as we know it. The simplest way is to not pick one medium. Carr seems to live in a reality where you either turn your brain off and search something into Google or become one with humanity and culture by picking up a large book, but one should balance both. Google and the world of instant information isn’t evil, I don’t even think it is as soul sucking as the article makes it feel, but I have to admit that our brain must be working differently, making different connections, and if it becomes a problem for Carr or anyone else, they should try to use the brain in other ways. Draw or paint often, read philosophy or poetry, our brain is malleable in this sense, its not as if turning on our computer will permanently resign our brains from thought processes that are long or tedious. Our brain makes connections in the way we train it to, in the case of the internet, it is leading us to a more simple or immediate way of thinking, with anything long and tedious being uncomfortable if we are too dependent on just one way of doing research or spending free time

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