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Old 06-10-2008, 05:40 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Is Google altering our mental habits (in a BAD way)?

Earlier this year Tara Brabazon, a professor at the University of Brighton, argued that the Internet is producing a generation of students who survive on a diet of unreliable information. "Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content," she said. Google, white bread for the mind?

Nicholas Carr, a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review, goes one step further, questioning whether Google is in fact making us stupid.

Quote:
I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”
Full article (careful, long read )

I admit I am an Internet junkie. Man, I wish it was different. Ten years ago, I went to the library and studied dusty books to seek knowledge. Back then, the mere act of doing research was by itself a rewarding experience for me. Today, I enter a single keyword in Google or Wikipedia, and seconds later, answers pop up (hopefully condensed in a few words). Good answers? I don't know. I am afraid Mr. Carr is right: something has changed, and I don't think this something has made me any smarter.

[via Infothought Blog]
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Old 06-10-2008, 06:26 AM   #2
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my problem is that I write long, detailed responses to blog posts and wonder why no-one reads or responds to them. Maybe this is why...
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Old 06-10-2008, 06:39 AM   #3
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Interesting, you regret having to go to libraries and spend hours looking up data, when you could be spending that time using the data to create something new?

I don't mean to pick on you, but Carr, in his "be skeptical of my skepticism" paragraph, hits the nail on the head. Sure the internet makes manual data mining obsolete, but, is that really a bad thing?
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Old 06-10-2008, 06:41 AM   #4
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I like white bread.
Seriously though, Google (and Wiki for that matter) is brilliant for (reasonably reliable) short, snappy answers to the niggly questions that are bothering you and won't let you concentrate on anything else.
If it's a subject I'm actually, genuinely interested in or want to be engrossed by, I would always resort to 'proper' research, whether posted (lengthily) on the internet or in a book (paper, at least until I get around to getting my e-device).
Since most such sites categorically disclaim against being reliable sources, I'm pretty wary of depending on them and usually quote with "I read this, but...."
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Old 06-10-2008, 07:05 AM   #5
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The only thing that bother me, specially in the kids, is how they use their brain like we use an USB key. They store little knowledge in their heads. They know that if they need to know something, they just have to google/wiki it. If you ask something they have already googled before, they might even have to google again.

This is grim but funny too. A power shortage and suddenly part of our population becomes ignorant again.
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Old 06-10-2008, 07:23 AM   #6
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I am an internet junkie myself - but I dont have any problems in reading long texts ... I regulary read whole books in a single session, and I really cannot say that anything in this regard has changed.

Perhaps people are more willing to accept "the first search result" as an answear - though I guess they always were willing to do so, only now Google makes it easier to find a trashy first answear. So I can second that "whitebread theory". Most people I know are willing to accept the first page they found (or the first page of hits) and forget to recheck their facts. As it is much easier to publish drek in the internet then it is in a book - there is a much bigger percentage of useless, made-up or dangerously wrong content in the internet. Simply taking the first five hits without questioning them critically is dangerous. As quite a number of people forgets about this - perhaps they are right.
But ntl: I fail to see that big a difference between a "real research" using Google or using a Library. You always have to recheck your information, use cross-referencing and get information about your source ... As most internet pages are unwilling to correctly quote and state their sources, cross-referencing and checking is more difficult with an internet source - but OTOH I have more sources to read
Oh and dont forget the language - the overall language in the internet is far easier (one could say degraded) then the one found in books. This leads to a generation of people not used to difficult language and not used to writing carefully. I have already seen some "study thesi" or similar written in a kind of "chat speak" - because the fellow students got to used to using this kind of language.

@Over: Yes, this is a problem. I regulary find myself doing something similar "I can always remember this later" ... Its dangerous because it leads to dependencies and to a disability to remember long stuff in the long run ..

The bigger problem seems to me Google itself. Google is filtering information, the content-sorting itself is non-trivial (and greatly influences which information is read) - and thus Google has a great power. I think people should (again) start using different search engines and not relay on a single source of information/searching. But thats a completely different chapter

---

But as a whole, I guess that this is not a problem of the internet itself - but of the way it is used. If people were trained to make 'real research' - the internet would be far more valuable then it is today. Continuing to read books - though you surf - stops your reading skill from degrading. etc etc
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Old 06-10-2008, 07:51 AM   #7
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It's like any source of information in life. You need to have an awareness of the quality of information, and use it appropriately. It's not always better to spend a lot more time looking for a more perfect source. If it was, why bother asking a friend about something - people are often wrong. The point is that you need to find an appropriate source for the information and treat it according to it's properly understood authority on the topic.

If I want quick info on a history topic or to learn about a technical term, sure I go to wikipedia and Google. Might I read something that's biased on incorrect at times? Sure. But I can't even begin to imagine how much time I've saved and how much more information I've been able to get because of these resources.

You face the same information quality issues whether you are talking to friends, reading the documents of co-workers or watching TV news. Even in library print research, or academic papers, you can't trust everything you read. Magazines and newspapers for instance are full of all kinds of errors and bias.

If our kids are trusting everything indiscriminately, and don't know how to evaluate or use a variety of information sources, then the problem is that they aren't being properly educated, and that has very little to do with the internet.
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Old 06-10-2008, 08:12 AM   #8
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@Bob Russell: Thanks. That is a big part of what I mean. And I agree - it is not primary a technical problem but an educational one. This doesn't mean that we should just turn our eyes away from it, it only means that no technical solution could ever adress this problem completely.
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Old 06-10-2008, 08:20 AM   #9
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The public schools here in Northern Virginia do not except Wikipedia as a source in reports. What I tell my kids is to start there to get a quick answer then go to the sources listed at the bottom to get more detailed, authoritative answers. They can also access a ton of legitimate sources online through our county library system.

Personally, I love being able to google a quick answer. That and Wikipedia are the greatest aspect of the internet. I do have a problem with reading long articles on my PC but that's a problem with the interface because I can read long articles on my Kindle or in print.
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Old 06-10-2008, 08:51 AM   #10
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Bob Russell Johnson is right! By the internet's very nature, you have to take what you get there with a grain of salt, and use some of that time you saved by going to Wiki or Google to search for data that corroborates your first result. Or three.

The internet is the latest in the universal human trend to shorten the amount of time needed to do a task. It's the latest in drive-in windows and cash cards. If anything, it might impact our ability to be patient.
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Old 06-10-2008, 09:08 AM   #11
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Nonsense, the only thing the internet's changed is how fast any idiot can have his opinion online. It used to be that these types of idiots, the ones hungry to get their beloved opinions out, became either journalists or the local fool writing letter after letter to the editorial.

No more. Now we have to suffer through them in blogs after blogs after blogs.

And this article is just that, another sensationalist, attention grabbing opinion with no real substance to it, let's face it guys, no news make news is the old adage, and what better than the typical "things aint like they used to be" type of article, spiced up with a little bit of sci fi dystopia. Things aint like they used to be (before the internet) and things are going downhill, typical journalist claptrap. I often wonder how these guys can find something to say every day...of course they do this by talking bull 99% of the time.

Dirty harry said it best when he said that opinions are like a holes, every has got one.



Of course I am not missing the irony of yours truly voicing his very own a hole online....
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Old 06-10-2008, 09:28 AM   #12
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Of course I am not missing the irony of yours truly voicing his very own a hole online....
Well... that's good...
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Old 06-10-2008, 10:01 AM   #13
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I use Google for a quick spell-check for pharmaceuticals*. You can reliably count on the drug makers to see to it that their products are spelled correctly on Google. It's faster for me than looking it up in the PDR.

* For my job, not for recreation!
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Old 06-10-2008, 10:03 AM   #14
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I use Google for a quick spell-check for pharmaceuticals*. You can reliably count on the drug makers to see to it that their products are spelled correctly on Google. It's faster for me than looking it up in the PDR.

* For my job, not for recreation!
I use Epocrates.
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Old 06-10-2008, 10:03 AM   #15
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Thank you Steven, did you by any chance take offense?
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