Is Google Making Us Stupid?

On Reading: “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”


As usual, I was rummaging through my digital screen, hopping and bouncing from one web page to another-assuring every tab that I shall come back and spend equal time reading it-I instantly looked up to the bookmark section, to my surprise, I found hundreds of useful web-pages untouched and unattended like that stashed money in a wallet of a typical miser. What do I do? Should I go back and read those equally important pages or should I fulfill the promise, I made, when I bookmarked these pages? A habitual thinking pattern crafted and designed by constant Internet usage rescued me. I cleaned up the bookmark section, ran to previously opened web-pages and replaced all of them with a new page: which I then replaced with another and eventually ended up reading nothing. Bizarre! Isn’t it? If only web-pages were replaced by cash notes, wouldn’t this behaviour qualify a psychological deformity or at least a mental disequilibrium: ramifications of which would engender financial and psychological bankruptcy.

“We are not only what we read, we are how we read, argues Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University. This statement summarizes my current reading pattern which reeks of ‘immediacy’ and ‘irritability’. Internet reading is a curse in disguise; the use of it has been seriously tinkering with my brain. Once a comprehensive reader; delving deep into the realms of thought, interpretation and spending hours to decode profound meaning of a prose, I have become a ‘skimmer’, a shallow interpreter, trying to be like a ‘expert of forest geography’, without even looking at leaves and twigs, not to talk about millions and billions of microorganisms dwelling in it. Subliminally, this ‘reading disease’ has evolved into a tumor and has significantly damaged my cognition abilities.

As argued by many scholars, online reading reprograms our memory and remaps the neural circuity. It has occurred to me and I am terribly disturbed by it, that continous and prolonged exposure to ‘Internet Reading’ has not only destabilized my erstwhile reading pattern; when I read printed material, but has also deleteriously damaged my comprehension capabilities. A typical web-page article is filled with a whimsical farrago of advertisements, Hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital knickknacks, thereby making it knotty for a reader who is already braving ‘harmful radiations’ reflected onto his retina.

A recent publication compiled by scholars of University College London, which studies online research habits, have suggested that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” jumping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they had already visited. The study also claims; people save their favourite web-pages or bookmark them, but there is little evidence that they ever had a urge to go back and actually read it. The report suggests:

“It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

Nicholas Carr, an American writer, wrote in his famous article: Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains.

“The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machine is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web-the more links we click and pages we view-the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It is in their economic interest to drives us to distraction.

During 15th Century, the Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico was worried when the Gutenberg printing press made its presence in the world of reading. He argued that easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. For that matter, he would be totally shocked at ‘Google’s reign’ in information pooling in contemporary world. The giant database available at a click where people even look for simple operations like; what is 2*2? or What is the name of my District’s Member of Legislative assembly?, is surely promoting ‘intellectual dwarfism’ and ‘intellectual sluggishness’.

(Inspired by Nicholas Carr’s article: Is Google Making Us Stupid?, What the Internet is doing to our brains.)

(Munawar Hussain is a journalism student)

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