Nicholas Carr

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

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Is Google Making Us Stupid? Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 25-page guide for “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Internet’s Power to Restructure Human Cognition and Consciousness and The Impact of the Internet’s Breakneck Pace on Human Intellectual Life.

The essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” was written by Nicholas Carr. It was originally published in The Atlantic’s July/August 2008 issue. The essay stirred much debate, and in 2010, Carr published an extended version of the essay in book form, entitled The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. 

The essay begins and ends with an allusion to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the initial allusion, Carr summarizes the moment toward the end of the film in which “the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory” (2). He feels that his brain has changed the way it processes information and thinks. He finds it increasingly more difficult to read deeply and with subtlety, as he loses his concentration and gets distracted and restless while reading. He attributes this change to the increase in his use of the Internet.

Carr states that he’s not alone in this as the Internet quickly becomes a “universal medium” (4). While he concedes that the Internet has provided the gift of “immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information,” he also cites the media theorist Marshal McLuhan’s more complicated observation: “edia are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought” (4). Carr asserts that “what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” (4). He then offers that many of his literarily-inclined friends are also observing a similar phenomenon in their own lives.

Carr points out that these anecdotes do not offer empirical proof of anything, and scientific experiments on “the long-term neurological and psychological” effects of the Internet have not yet been completed (7). However, he cites a recent study published by the University College of London that “suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think” (7). The college’s five-year study observed “computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information: “They found that people using the sites exhibited ‘a form of skimming activity,’ hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited” (7). The authors of the study ultimately concluded that readers are not reading Internet materials the way that they would read materials in more traditional media—and that the Internet is creating a new paradigm of reading, “as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins” (7).

Carr observes that the proliferation of text on both the Internet and via text messaging has likely increased the amount that people read: “But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self,” he says (8). He then cites Maryanne Wolf, the developmental psychologist at Tufts University who wrote the book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. He writes, “Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style…

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