Yes, Google is making me stupid

Or at least less apt to struggle through difficult, rewarding books. You see, I was (belatedly) inspired by The American Scene’s “Fall of the U.S.A.” series to pick up John Dos Passos and give The 42nd Parallel an honest-to-goodness shot. So far, it’s rough going. I’m only 50 pages in and I have to force myself to sit down and actually read the damn book, as opposed to skimming a few pages while simultaneously checking my email and glancing at the Wizards game playing in the background.

I’ve become incredibly adept at multitasking. I like jumping in and out of books that are easily digested in small, thought-provoking chunks. I’m also quite good getting a sense of what a book is about through fragments bouncing around the Internet; a blog post here, a New Yorker article there, and voila! I can talk about Dos Passos’ place in the American literary canon without looking like a complete fool. But I’m losing my ability to sit down and actually read the damn book. And even if I am perfectly capable of masking this deficiency in polite company, I feel like a fraud. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to try to read the damn book.

All of which is to say that this article seems a lot more persuasive now than when I first read it.

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13 thoughts on “Yes, Google is making me stupid

  1. I don’t agree that google is making people stupider. Nor do I agree that texting is making people less literate. It seems to me that what google and texting and the internet in general is doing is making literacy and searching for information easier and thus making people involve themselves in both of those things who would otherwise not involve themselves at all.

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  2. Will – you just have to turn the rest of the stuff OFF first. Reading is no harder than it ever was if you take yourself into a room sans TV, sans PC, and sans CELLPHONE. Google can’t get you if none of its portals into your world are nearby.

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    • I think that I have to disagree. As someone who had let far too much of a life once spent in a way that involved semi-successfully digesting War and Peace in two weeks, while tending to the rest of his academic obligations, but has since spent far too much time “multitasking”, with heavy emphasis on the portable Idiot Box 2.0, I think that the problem runs deeper than simply shutting things off. Part of it in my case is an attention span that was childlike at best before the dawn of the Internet Age, but my ability to concentrate on and to digest — to get something from — what I read has diminished significantly. In college (admittedly, under circumstances that demanded it of me), I could finish off a few books in a week; now I’m spending a few weeks to finish a book. Yes, I work, yes I spend time online that I could spend reading, but when I’m reading, I can’t concentrate, I have to re-read passages, I have to annotate simply to focus. A lot of the blame does lie, E.D., in our inability/refusal just to turn things off, but I have to side with Will and Mr. Carr on this one. Even freed from these trappings, my mind wanders in ways that were unimaginable even four years ago. It’s my fault, not Google‘s, but it’s Google, et al. that I’ve used to do this to myself.

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      • Nathan. I disagree – I think we aren’t factoring in everything with this analysis. For one, life gets busier and more complex as we get older. Our minds change. We have a tiny bit more weight of the world on us. We are also less inclined to get exercise. I find that if I get ample exercise I’m much less likely to let my mind wander. If I get too little I’m simply physically and mentally not all there.

        Then, too, it really depends on the book. I’m still an avid reader. I finished off the last series I was reading in a couple months. I find I’m more distracted by life than by google or blogging, though certainly at times my mind wanders to topics I’ve been writing about on the blogs.

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  3. I would say that multi tasking doesn’t really exist. At most we switch rapidly from one tasks to another, which having several things currently in progress. We are more inclined to have multiple tasks going at the same time now. Very few people can actually do more then one task at time that requires actual thought. Most of us can do a relatively automated task ( like stirring soup) while thinking about something else, but that is about it.

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    • multi tasking doesn’t really exist. At most we switch rapidly from one tasks to another

      But that *is* multitasking — a single CPU multitasks by rapidly (every X milliseconds) switching between “active” processes. Simulated simultaneity.

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  4. Like others who have posted, I find I read better when the TV is off (for me it’s very easy– I require hearing aids, and if I turn them off, I can’t hear the TV even if my wife is watching only a few feet away), I read better when I’m awake and rested and not angry or upset, and I read better when the stuff I’m reading is interesting and well written. One thing I’ve noticed over the last few years that no one has yet mentioned: since I started writing fiction on my own, I get more out of what I’m reading. Some of it is, I think, my growing realization of how hard it is to write well, and my increased admiration for authors who do so. Some of it is, I have a better idea of what the author is up to, having tried to do it myself. It may not be a cure-all, but I might suggest trying to write your own stories, and I think you’ll find it easier to appreciate other people’s work.

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  5. My reading habits changed when I moved away from the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library into a small south Brooklyn apartment. I stopped going to the library, ran out of space to store books, got on the Internet and stopped buying the Sunday NY Times, all in short order.

    Now when I buy a new book I discard an old one to make space. I read the Times online. I read mostly customer reviews of books on Amazon, sometimes really a lot of them. I don’t tweet and don’t consider that I have attention problems. I sometimes read really long essays online and print out pages as I need them. Before the electronics onslaught I read lots of books whole, big thick ones. So I’ve been there and done that. Now I read/see a wide mix of text and images. Just keeping up with the times.

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