No, Google is not making us stupid

Trent Batson at Campus Technology has an interesting refutation of Nicholas Carr’s assertion that Google is making us all stupid. Here’s a quote:

What Carr describes and is most worried about, how we "skim" and "bounce" around in our reading, is actually akind of new orality: We are reading as we speak when we are in a group. We "listen" to one statement, then another and another in quick succession: Our reading on the Web is like listening to a bunch of people talking. It's hybrid orality. We find ourselves once again the naturally gregarious humans we always were. We find ourselves creating knowledge continually and rapidly as our social contacts on the Web expand. We have re-discovered new ways to enjoy learning in a social setting.

No, Google is not making us stupid. What Google and the Web are doing is helping us re-claim our human legacy of learning through a rapid exchange of ideas in a social setting. Google is, indeed, making us smarter as we re-discover new ways to learn.

Hybrid orality. That’s pretty heady stuff. Thoughts?

8 Responses to “No, Google is not making us stupid”

  1. Many, including myself, are not ‘reading on the web’. They may spend only minutes or even less on a site. That is not reading. At least not in the way that I perceive reading. It is skimming.

    Certainly there are individuals that are seriously and critically reading the publications of others on the net and responding in kind via other publications, commenting and sharing. That is enlightening and adding to the sum of human knowledge and experience. No argument with that. That is intelligent behaviour. Yet the percentage of web users actually doing that is minimal.

    I feel that the vast majority of web users are skimmers. Catching bits here and there. Regurgitating existing bits of content.

    Most of what happens on that net is not gregarious. Sure, social networking, blogging, twitter et al facilitates contact, primarily virtual in nature. These contacts are augmented with real human contact from time to time. That is gregarious. Face to face. The virtual stuff is not gregarious. That is wishful thinking.

    I cannot help but feel that much of the ‘networking’ that happens via tools such as MySpace and Facebook is an extension of individualism. Not an individualism that expresses creativity but an individualism that is wired to benefit the self as opposed to the community ~ that real community that exists outside their front door, down the street, in the village and in the town. That community is suffering neglect.

    “The web is helping us to reclaim our human legacy of learning”. Is the net making for a betterment of humanity? What are we learning? We are certainly more connected globally. Yet local connections seem to be diminishing. Individuals, particularly youth are devoting more of their leisure time to pursuits indoors. The exploration of the big wide world that exists down the lane from their home, across the field, down by the creek or even in their own backyard seems to be rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

    Humanity is unlearning. We are learning how to survive as disconnected individuals in urban boxes. We are unlearning how to be human, real, speaking, listening, coughing, farting, together, exploring, climbing, walking, tripping, falling, hurting and so on.

    Humans may have more access to knowledge but that does not necessarily make us a smarter. Access to knowledge does not equate with intelligence. Knowledge itself does not equate to intelligence. It is what you do with that knowledge that makes one intelligent and considering the state of humanity ecologically and economically at the moment it seems to me that all that knowledge is not being put to intelligent use at the moment.

    Only the few are discovering new ways to learn via Google and the Web. The vast majority are unwittingly acquiring new ways to unlearn. Wired for immediate gratification.

  2. Batson’s response comes off too rose-colored. I do believe there is an eroding of patience to read longer passages. While I am not suggesting the end-of-the-world-type of thinking about learning, I think it’s a little brazen to blame Google. Google itself does not really produce the content that any of the authors suggest is contributing to the positive or detriment of the circumstances. If we’re going to point fingers, then texting, emoticons, IMing, short blog posts and Twitter are the culprits. As a researcher and teacher, I have to think that I have a responsibility to balance these short, pithy readings with longer, more developed pieces.

  3. Hasn’t education always been as much about knowing where to get the information as it was knowing the information. Google has made information acquisition easier. How can access to information make a person “dumber”.

    I understand the argument about skimming and no deep analysis, but believe that it becomes our job to teach the users how to find the data and evaluate the information.

    Like any tool, it becomes how do you use it. I am not going to put in a nail with a shovel.

  4. I started to write a reply a here, but it got WAY too long. So, head on over to for my musings.

  5. Interesting topic, let me Google it!

  6. I am not going to go so far as to say that books are obsolete, but I can tell you that I have read many that have taken twenty to fifty pages to convey what I have read on this and other blogs which amount to less than a page at times.
    It is not about length, but about conveying of an idea or information. To read for information in a book or via some electronic means is seeking knowledge. Generally when I or one of my children use Google or another search engine we read multiple sites to ensure the information is consistent. I use other search engines to find abstracts of whole articles which are often available on an organization’s site. I don’t see how sharing ideas or communicating via e-mail, on Facebook, MySpace, or via a blog is any more or less engaging than our old methods of writing letters to one another. I hear about the need for face to face, but information has been being passed along via the telephones for sometime now. I wonder if those who were phone immigrants felt the same way about that technology. Is the use of Skype, or MSN Messenger Video call option more or less engaging. I have to admit that I feel better know that those I am talking with using this technology don’t have to smell my farts.

  7. Perhaps it is all in how one defines intelligence. If intelligence is about reading large volumes and composing large volumes of critical analysis and commentary on those initial volumes, then perhaps the discourse of the Web 2.0 era has doomed us to ineptitude the likes of which haven’t been seen since the pre-Monolith days of yore.

    However, if intelligence is about identifying and solving problems to achieve an ends and progressively achieving more and more significant ends, then perhaps the ability to acquire necessary information to make reasoned, logical and ultimately successful solutions to complex challenges afforded us by Web 2.0 technology is a good thing. A very good thing.

    Whether we like it or not, this is the way the world is turning. It’s up to us whether we figure out a way to harness that energy and guide it toward positivity or choose to scream ‘duck and cover’ while we and subsequent generations find ourselves in information rich oblivion.

    Dan Ryder
    Wicked Decent Learning

    • Nice post Dan. Referring to the last part of your comment about being proactive about change or sitting around and reacting to the madness that ensues. If you dislike change, you will dislike being irrelevant even more.


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