For almost the past thirty years, since the Internet as we know it today was first invented in Geneva, Switzerland in 1990, people have theorized about exactly how such an advanced leap in technology will affect the human race. While there are many benefits to such technology, there are many people who worry that the long term effects may change humanity for the worse, stunting our cognitive ability and the way we think. In his 2008 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr discusses reasons why people should be more wary of the Internet’s effects, as well as how previous technology has changed us in the past and how it has been received by skeptics throughout the ages, from Socrates to Carr’s contemporary colleagues. As he discusses the causes for potential harm that the advent of this new technology causes, he also realizes he may be wrong, as many doomsayers throughout human history have been about many other new tools that have helped humanity get to where it is today.
In his article, Carr talks about how he and his fellow colleagues have felt their attention span decreasing as they have spent more time using the Internet for research, reading, and entertainment. “My concentration starts to drift after two or three pages,” he says (Carr, 314). Carr says that though the Internet is changing our brains and the way we think. While there are no studies on the long term effects the Internet has on our brain, he does cite an experiment that showed that people using the web for research skimmed many sites and rarely returned to the same one. However, he does discuss that through the Internet, we may be reading more than we used to, compared to the 1970s and 1980s when people watched TV more than reading books. Carr also discusses that it is human nature to be skeptical of new technology, as Socrates feared the new generation’s dependency on writing leading to people losing the ability to memorize or Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that books being more readily available, made possible by the printing press, would result in “intellectual laziness” (326). “The doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings” of the technology in question (327), as is true with the Internet.
Nicholas Carr’s thoughts on this subject definitely have some merits. I agree that our ability to pay attention to long passages of writing is getting smaller and smaller because of how the Internet works. I myself have observed this in my own reading. However, I do not agree that this makes the Internet inherently evil. As Socrates bemoaned the loss of memorization of facts due to writing, this was because memorization of certain things was no longer necessary. Humans are still able to memorize information that is needed in daily life, like when to start braking before reaching a stop sign. Our ability to memorize is not gone, the amount that we need to memorize has decreased. It is the same with attention span. We do not pay attention to as much because we simply do not need to – the Internet helps that. Similar to how we memorize both very necessary information and silly advertisement jingles from the 90s, we can pay attention to information that is important to us as well as ridiculous and silly posts on social media.
Carr is not wrong in expressing his and his colleagues’ concern over how the technology is changing our brains and the way we think; in fact, he is acting as humans have over any kind of revolutionary new technology since the development of writing. However, to think that the risks outweigh the benefits is entirely incorrect. Having easy access to information through search engines such as Google may change the way we think, but our society and the way we accomplish daily tasks has shifted around other technologies that have done the same. We are currently in the transition period between a world without the Internet and a world where it is in everything we do. We seem to be nearing the end of that transition, but we still need to adapt our society to the growing presence of the Internet. To say that the Internet will always be bad for humanity’s cognitive ability is to ignore that we are able to adapt to new details about our environment.
We have greater access to information than we have ever had before in our species’ history. It may be human nature to be skeptical of new technologies, but it is a law of nature that we must adapt to new environmental factors, and the Internet is definitely becoming a universal staple of the human experience, integrated into our environments almost seamlessly over the past 27 years. We must adapt to it, and it is much easier to do this than Carr believes. Humans are extremely social animals, and the Internet allows us to better keep in touch with people over long distances, and even meet people we never would have met without it. The Internet allows humans to be even more social, and this can benefit us beyond measure. Humans have benefitted so immensely from this new technology, it is difficult to foresee a future without it anymore. People desire to be connected, and the Internet allows us to be more connected than we have ever been in our history.
Carr is completely correct in his statement that our attention spans are decreasing since the Internet has appeared, and also when he says that the way we think appears to be changing, but he does not acknowledge how beneficial it is to us as a species if we can only learn to reshape our society to accommodate for the minor harm such a revolutionary invention may cause. We have done so before with the invention of writing and the printing press, surely we as a species are able to do it again. The Internet helps humanity realize its full potential as a socially advanced species, and to think that the Internet is in its final form and will not change is a false assumption. The benefits outweigh the risks and will continue to do so as human society shifts to compensate for what a constant connection will cause.