A few colleagues and I just had an interesting exchange on the recent article at The Atlantic,Is Google Making Us Stupid?, which basically blamed Google for literally rewiring our brains into more stupid brains (not being able to pay attention, read deep books...) based on a number of personal anecdotes and a little research.
My 2 cents: this is a complex topic and we'd first need to clarify the question, before looking for answers to support or refute it. I found the Atlantic article superficial for a meaningful conversation, with its title and main premise making little sense: Google can not makes us stupid, in the same way that guns don't make us violent or pens don't make us good writers.
The author of the article complains about having less of a number of cognitive abilities than he once had. Now, what is the case to make Google the main suspect?.
Before we judge something as "good" or "bad" or "stupid" we need to establish:
1) for what? what are the cognitive skills needed now to succeed and to be a contributing citizen and happy person in our age,
2) what are the Pros and Cons of different methods to develop those skills,
3) can those methods complement each other, or do they mutually exclude each other?
We can BOTH be superb book readers and Google users. Simply 2 different tools, and I have found no study that says it is one or the other. brains are not "rewired" as a whole entity, meaning the only thing they could once do was A and now it is B. Once could both speak English and Chinese, two very different language systems! or speak English and be a math genius. Or, speak English and Chinese and be a math genius all at the same time.The New York Times had a related and more insightful article over the weekend:Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?, including thisexcellent chart on the mental processes required to search for and analyze information online.
We can expect to read more on this very inportant topic for years to come. A few months agoI commented on a great column by David Brooks in the NYT.David Brooks: The Cognitive Age (5/2/08). Quotes:
-"It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information."
-"the most important part of information’s journey is the last few inches — the space between a person’s eyes or ears and the various regions of the brain. Does the individual have the capacity to understand the information? Does he or she have the training to exploit it?"
-"But the cognitive age paradigm emphasizes psychology, culture and pedagogy — the specific processes that foster learning."
Beautifully said. Yes, we are "moving into a more demanding cognitive age." This is true for the reasons that Brooks aludes to: because of globalization that requires workers to keep their cognitive skills sharp to compete. But, there are other reasons such as current demographic, health and scientific trends. People are living longer which means that they have more opportunities to experience cognitive decline and and will require specific interventions. Huge medical advances over the last 100 years have enabled longevity, improved quality of life overall. But, they have focused more on how to maintain "healthy bodies" than on "healthy brains."
New tools, such as Google, offer opportunities, and challenges. They don´t make us do things. We do.
Finally, in case anyone wonders, I love reading...good books.
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