Jacob Vander Griend
November 1, 2014
An Analysis of Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid”
In the last 30 years, a wave of technological innovation has swept over the Earth, blanketing our cultures with Cell Phones, Microwaves, and the peculiar creation labeled simply, “The Internet”. Emerging to the public in the 1990’s, the Internet is a vast collection of databases stored all around the world, allowing anyone with a computer and access to the internet to view virtually anything you might want to learn about. However, even in its early age, the Internet displayed curious properties, as popular tech-cartoonist Scott Adams states,” In 1993, there were only a handful of Web sites you could access, such as the Smithsonian’s exhibit of gems. These pages were slow to load and crashed as often as they worked. But something interesting happened every time we demonstrated this technology. The customers would get out of their chairs, their eyes like saucers…There was something about the internet that was like catnip.”(Adams, 1054) Today the internet has ballooned into a juggernaut of political activism, commercial business, and in some cases, controversy. In his 2008 article entitled,” Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, writer Nicholas Carr taps into the undercurrent of a current global debate regarding beliefs that the Internet has begun to change our world in more ways, than simply opening more information to the general public. As Carr asserts, the Internet has begun to negatively effect our very way of thinking, from distractions in online articles, to creating negative effects upon user’s concentration. In this paper, I will analyze the rhetorical strategies employed by Carr to promote his main argument, to argue that Carr creates a very persuasive point even if his views may be considered a minority opinion.
One of the most important tools Carr utilizes in his article is the rhetorical strategy of Prolepsis, a rhetorical tactic of addressing possible arguments against his position in advance. From the very start of his article, Carr finds himself in a hard position arguing against the internet’s benefits, as 90% of the public polled by Pew research found,” the Internet has been a good thing for them personally.”(NBC, 2014) If Carr is to provide a strong argument, he must attempt to address any counter-claim his audience might find with any of his views. While this is not possible for every point he makes, Carr makes a strong effort throughout his article to add a section of Prolepsis to his statements. As an example, in a short section regarding an emerging trend of “skimming” rather than fully reading an article on the internet, Carr provides the following assertion:
Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the internet, not to mention the popularity of text messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970’s or 1980’s…But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking-perhaps even a new sense of self (Carr, 3)
By utilizing Prolepsis here, Carr is attempting to prevent his argument from being countered by the referenced facts regarding the wide volume of text read on the internet. Failing to address these benefits to the internet would open Carr immediately to criticism from other writers, such as Clive Thompson, a writer mentioned early in Carr’s text who wrote his own book detailing the benefits of the internet. While Carr does provide many good examples of Prolepsis, this is not to say that Carr creates an absolute defense, as even in the quote above, he fails to mention other aspects of the internet’s effects such as the internet’s effect on writing, something Thompson goes into great detail over, leaving a weakness open in his argument. Additionally, Carr could use more evidence for some of his uses of Prolepsis, as even in his section rebutting a very short section from Thompson, “Thompson has written,”[The Internet] can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price”(Carr, 2), he relies on a personal view, rather than evidence. However, despite the deficiencies of parts of his defense, Prolepsis is key to Carr’s main argument, in that if he cannot defend the weak parts of his article and at the same time force his audience to face the possibility of side effects in the commonly believed “benefits” of the internet. His whole argument will fall apart under the scrutiny of a group that most likely does not want to find something as key to their lives as the Internet, as a possible source of problems.
Following the importance of a strong defense for his outspoken ideas, a key strategy Carr uses to develop his argument comes through the traditional method of Logos, a rhetorical strategy focusing on a strong logical appeal to an audience. While Carr may start his article with a short emotional appeal from a section of 2001:A Space Odyssey where HAL 9000 cries out mimicking Carr’s own feelings on the internet’s effect on his mind, “Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” (Carr, 1) He wastes no time in diving into a collection of facts, studies, and historical examples to prove that each new technology changes the way we think. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Carr’s referencing of Nietzsche and his typewriter, as Carr states:
Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter-a Malling Hansen Ball to be precise…But the Machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic…”You are right”, Nietzsche replied,” Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”. (Carr, 3)
This example of Nietzsche serves as a historical reminder of the effect technology can have on the way we think, exemplified by Nietzsche himself in his ending statement,” Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.(Carr, 3) This short statement lends support to Carr’s claim that the internet can change the way we think, a very strong benefit to Carr’s argument. While the veracity of the truth of Nietzsche’s own personal experiences could be disputed as individual results, the use of an authority figure does serve to reinforce Carr’s point. Overall, Carr’s use of Logos serves the purpose of utilizing as much data, and the sheer weight of past examples to prove to his readers that there is evidence for a shift in the way we think due to changing technology, and as an extrapolation, the internet follows the same lines. By relying on a large trend of logos focused examples, Carr creates the keystone of his argument in a swathe of concrete details serving to anchor the rest of his claims to real life examples, giving stronger credence to his own personal views.
In the course of making the claim that the Internet is not as beneficial as traditional methods of reading, and absorbing information, Carr carefully selects the definitions for critical terms in his article. Doing this allows Carr the ability to change the meaning of common terms like reading, and algorithms in his view of the internet. As an example of this, Carr’s statement,” The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the authors words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds… Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from Deep thinking.”(Carr, 7) Carr clearly is establishing a difference between the reading done online, and the traditional printed page. By defining these two as separate actions, Carr is able to relegate the internet’s version of reading as substandard to the traditional method. This in turn, allows Carr to assert to his audience that the terms they are comfortable with, like reading, are not universally applicable. Additionally, Carr redefines terms like “algorithms”, and “processes”, to hold a more negative connotation to connect Google’s plans to, “systematize everything”(Carr,5) back to the slavish work conditions of the Industrial age pioneered by A. Winslow Taylor, one of the founders of Factory systemization. (Carr, 5) Carr’s argument benefits from this in that he is able to redefine one of the Internets highest regarded institutions as, “something making its users, “into little more than Automatons”, (Carr, 5) A point that ties in well with his overall argument that the internet is harming our critical thinking faculties, and ruining our traditional abilities to process information.
The end result of Carr’s strategies and evidence should produce a favorable opinion in the minds of his audience, yet while I found his strategies persuasive, I also found his article somewhat weak. Throughout Carr’s article, it seemed as his evidence is relatively outdated, a small list of the years provided: 1882, 1976, 1936 (Carr, 3-6). None of these examples happened anywhere near the creation of the internet, and while Carr may invoke the name of a prominent scientist like Alan Turing, he is at a loss for substantial modern evidence for his claims. It is this lack of evidence that I found as the weakest part of Carr’s argument, otherwise, he delivers his claims carefully, and strongly with support from a number of rhetorical strategies. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned from Carr’s article would be the importance of anticipating arguments against your claims. Carr makes a strong showing of this throughout his article, and to me, this makes the difference for his in places, weak, claims. Without his uses of Prolepsis, the official name for this strategy, even his introductory anecdotes would have faltered early due to their personal nature. Lastly, Carr also shows as an example of an opinion that is in a very minute minority, yet through the exemplary use of rhetorical tactics, still manages to hold a persuasive point, in that, Carr is a success in his argument.
Adams, Scott. “The Modern Era: 2001-2008.” Introduction. Dilbert 2.0 20 Years of Dilbert. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2012. 1054. Print.
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 July 2008. Web. 08 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/>.
Wagstaff, Keith. “Poll: 90 Percent of Americans Think Internet Is Good For Them – NBC News.” NBC News. Pew Research, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/poll-90-percent-americans-think-internet-good-them-n40111>.
By jakevandergriendin Uncategorized on .
The author goes on to provide a thorough researched account of how text on the web is supposed to make the browsing experience fast and profitable. Carr described how the web is structured to make money for certain people how critical thinking skills and attention spans are ignored in the process. He finishes his argument by describing what people are losing in the shift towards the web as our main source of information. The author talks about the new idea of considering the brain as a computer feels bad for the loss of deep reading and intellectual stimulation it offers for ones brains. Lastly, the authors quotes the 2001: A space Odyssey scene which he used to open the article. He identifies with the computer within the scene instead of the robotic human and appears to imply that the web will cause us to become more machine like instead of machines.
This paper will analyze Carr’s argument that the computer/internet is affecting our capacity to make our own associations and develop our own ideas.
I agree with the authors remarks that the internet is deeply impacting ones capacity to read and stimulate ones thinking capacity and such a scenario would greatly impact everyone. In his article, Carr explained how the internet impacted him. He pointed out that after he began using the internet, he was no longer able to read long texts of information without getting distracted and he is no longer firmly linked to what he was reading (Carr, 2015, p313). Carr is not the only person who has noticed this changes, other researchers and scholars share similar concerns. Bruce Friedman, a blogger who Carr used as an example pointed out that blog post which are over three pages is too much to absorb and which is what Carr and other researchers have experienced (p316). The reason for this according to Carr is that people are spending a lot of time the internet. Carr argued that spending a lot of time on the internet and switching from one website to another has changed the way he reads information (Carr, 2015, p316).He went on to note that he has stopped thinking the way he used to think. He went on to add that immersing himself in a lengthy article initially used to be very easy. His mind would get caught up in the narrative, and he would spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. However, since he began using the internet, he finds it harder to read lengthy books. His concentration usually begins to drift after reading two or three pages. This sentiments by the author are not unique to him since it is what other people are going through.
I fully support Carr sentiments we, as a culture, read a lot more owing to the internet, however, he lamented that one’s capacity to understand text, to make informed rich mental connections that is created when one reads deeply without getting distracted, remains largely disengaged. Carr highlighted a quote from an essay by the playwright Richard Foreman: he comes from a tradition of Western culture whereby the ideal was the complex, dense, and ‘cathedral-like’ framework of the very educated and articulate man/woman that carried inside themselves a personally developed and distinct form of the whole heritage of the West. But currently, all that we see within us (myself included) there placement of sophisticated inner density with a newer type of self-evolving under the pressure of overload of information and internet of the ‘immediate availability.
Our reliance on the web has a dark side. An increasing body of scientific research have pointed out that the web, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is changing human beings to scattered and superficial thinkers. According to Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel, the similar thread in such disabilities is the division of our attention. He went on to point out that the richness of ones thoughts, memory and personalities hinges on once capacity to focus the brain and sustain concentration (Carr, 2010). It is only when one pays attention to a newer pieces of information is when one is able to relate to it “meaningfully and systematically with information already well established in memory. These associations are crucial when it comes to mastering complex ideas and critical thinking.
When we are at all times distracted and interrupted, as we tend to be when starring at the screens of the computers and mobile phones, the brains tends to become unable to form the firm & expansive neural links which gives uniqueness and depth to ones thinking. Ones thoughts tend to become disorganized/incoherent, hence ones memories become very weak. This scenario conforms to the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca who pointed out 2,000 years ago that to be everywhere is to be nowhere (Carr, 2010).
The deep dependence on the internet is also impacting negatively on the performance of students in their school work. In a single research experiment that was carried out at a US university, half a class of students were allowed to use internet-connected laptops during their lectures, while the other half were asked to shut down their computers . At the end of this experiment, it was established that the students who were allowed to use internet-connected laptops during their lectures performed much worse on a subsequent test (Carr, 2010). The primary reason for this was that they were unable to recall what was taught in class since their attention/concertation levels was distracted. Initial experiments showed that as the number of links in an online document increases, one’s reading comprehension tends to decline, and as more forms of information are put on a screen, one tend to less of what we see.
The above cases are a clear indication that though the internet is good, it has a dark side to it. This is so it tends to impact negatively on ones thinking capacity, concentration levels and retention of information. If this trend goes on, then we as humans are putting ourselves at greater risks of not been able to fully realize and utilize the power of our brains, i.e. thinking capacity. By depending on the web, it is like we have delegated the role of thinking to the computers/web. Such a scenario is very dangerous since it makes us to become unable to think even when it comes to making simple decisions.
With this regard, it like the web has become a drug which we have to use in order for us to function properly. Carr gives credit to the web for making research which initially used to take days available in a matter of minutes (Carr, 2010). But what one gets comes at a huge cost. Carr is of the opinion that concertation and deeper contemplation is what people are giving up. Moreover, one might be good at multitasking, but creativity would be affected significantly. Since creativity is as a result of critical thinking, the heavy reliance on the web tends to negatively impact ones deeper thinking hence hindering them from becoming creative. What we as humans are sacrificing in our surfing and searching is our capability to engage in the quieter, attentive modes of thoughts which underpins contemplation, deliberation and self-analysis (Carr, 2010). The internet never motivates us to slow down. It only keeps us in a state of continuous mental locomotion. The growth/expansion of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter that pumps out streams of brief messages, have just exacerbated the issue.
There is nothing wrong with absorbing too much information faster and in bits and pieces. We as humans have at all times skimmed newspapers more than we have read them, and we continuously run our eyes over journals and magazines so as to obtain the gist of a piece of writing and make decisions as to whether they qualify for further/extensive reading. The capability to scan and browse is as crucial as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. What is worrying and disturbing is that skimming has grown to become our dominant form of thought (Carr, 2010). Once a means to an end, a way of identifying information for future research, it’s becoming an end in itself — our liked form of both learning and evaluation. Dazzled by the reassures of web, human beings have been blinded to the damage that we are doing to our won intellectual lives and even our cultures.
The discovery of the internet has brought with it numerous benefits. However, there has been a growing concern that the web is adversely impacting our capacity to think critically and which in one way or the other is making us to become “stupid” or unable to think independently.
UK Assignment Writing Service, (2017) Summary of Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr | Assignment Writing Service. Retrieved from https://assignmentwritingservice.net/uk
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Carr, Nicholas. How