Edgy comments

Some weeks ago, while in the US, I could not resist buying the latest Atlantic Monthly, seeing that Nicholas Carr had written a piece headlined “Is Google making us stupid?”

Incidentally, for some strange reason, the magazine insisted on spelling “stupid” as “stoopid” on the cover, ostensibly to play off the word “google”, but then went back to the normal spelling for the headline of the article itself. Weird. I couldn’t see the point.

But that’s not relevant. What is relevant is Carr’s article, which I read and liked even though I disagreed with a good deal of it. More on that later. That’s not what this post is about.

What this post is about is the responses to Carr’s article in the latest issue of The Edge. More particularly, it’s about an unusually rich crop of pithy statements included in those responses. Here are some samples:

W. Daniel Hillis: While we complain about the overload, we sign up for faster internet service, in-pocket email, unlimited talk-time and premium cable. In the mist of the flood, we are turning on all the taps.

Kevin Kelly: I think that even if the penalty is that you lose 20 points of your natural IQ when you get off Google AI, most of us will choose to keep the 40 IQ points we gain by jacking in all the time.

Larry Sanger: Carr profoundly misunderstands the nature of the problem: to pretend that you can blame others (programmers, no less!) for your unwillingness to think long and hard is only a sign of how the problem itself resides within you. It is ultimately a problem of will, a failure to choose to think. If that is a problem of yours, you have no one to blame for it but yourself.

George Dyson: Nicholas Carr asks a question that all of us should be asking ourselves:

“What if the cost of machines that think is people who don’t?”

It’s a risk. “The ancestors of oysters and barnacles had heads. Snakes have lost their limbs and ostriches and penguins their power of flight. Man may just as easily lose his intelligence,” warned J. B. S. Haldane in 1928.

We will certainly lose some treasured ways of thinking but the next generation will replace them with something new. The present generation has no childhood immunity to web-based stupidity but future generations will.

I am more worried by people growing up unable to tie a bowline, sharpen a hunting knife, or rebuild a carburetor than I am by people who don’t read books. Perhaps books will end up back where they started, locked away in monasteries (or the depths of Google) and read by a select few.

We are here (on Edge) because people are still reading books. The iPod and the MP3 spelled the decline of the album and the rise of the playlist. But more people are listening to more music, and that is good.

Jaron Lanier:

The thing that is making us stupid is pretending that technological change is an autonomous process that will proceed in its chosen direction independently of us.

It is certainly true that particular technologies can make you stupid. Casinos, dive bars, celebrity tabloids, crack cocaine…

And certainly there are digital technologies that don’t bring out the best or brightest aspects of human nature. Anonymous comments are an example.

There are many others. It is worth your reading the original article by Carr and the rejoinders in the Edge.

5 thoughts on “Edgy comments”

  1. It reminds me of me of Jonathan Lethem’s “Gun, With Occasional Music” where in the future people effectively choose to have “Google” connected directly to their brains and that is their memory.

    In time choice vanishes and it becomes a crime to have your own memory rather than relying on the shared memory.

  2. Google is not making us half as stupid as what television did to the masses.
    Give people a TV set, and they will zap sequentially among a few dozen programs all built for much the same target audience.
    Give the same people Google, and they will LOOK FOR something they like, and yield (sometimes) some (moderately) unexpected result.
    Now of course Google will not necessarily make people more curious, and even though it gives them access to the long tail, this tool like all mass media tools will potentially accelerate nationalisms, sectarism, and eventually lock up people into closed schemes.
    But at least it provides more POTENTIAL than the remote control of a good old cabled TV set.

    Now if you agree to become more stupid, Google will facilitate the process. And it’s always been the same: the computer enables us to make the same mistakes as before. Just faster.

    I like this blog because it helps open the mind, it stimulates curiosity.

    And I must admit it’s not Google that led me to this blog. It’s another blog (by French consultant Louis Naugès), which I discovered through a personal recommendation.
    Word of mouth in reality then virtual word of mouth.

    It all boils down to communities and trusting people we know to get us to discover new things.

  3. There always has been a plethora of information on Earth since the 20th century began. What the internet changed is that it made information ubiquitous & timely.

    The result of all this “access” has, in my opinion, created a new quotient classification – Correlatory [sic].

    Due to the internet’s propensity to publish immense amounts of information in a variety of perspectives, human minds will have to evolve into a correlatory mindset. Those with a higher CQ will be able to determine trends and ascertain decisions more rapidly than the less inclined.


    Zubin Wadia

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