Is Google making us stupid?

Is Google making us stupid? If only HAL were here to ask: My thoughts on Nicolas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Carr’s audience consists of casual readers and his style is casual, though informative enough for a The Atlantic article. Early on in his article, Carr lets his audience know that he personally suspects the technology we interact with and rely upon shapes the way we absorb information.  Because Carr is speaking to a casual audience, he chooses a scene between supercomputer HAL and astronaut Dave from Stanley Kubrick’s well-known movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, to illustrate the dangers we may be putting ourselves in by relying on technology to think for us.

The invention Carr employs to frame his argument is a combined past-to-present – present-to-future strategy.  Carr does not want to come across as an alarmist, so he utilizes the past-to-present framing strategy to remind his audience that in the history of technological advances, there were well-respected thinkers who had their doubts about the new technologies of their respective times. He gives the example in Plato’s Phaedrus where Socrates “bemoaned the development of writing.” Socrates took the view that if people substituted the written word for the knowledge once carried inside their heads, they might believe they are very knowledgeable when, in fact, they are “for the most part quite ignorant.”  Carr further relates how it was once thought that Gutenberg’s printing press would lead to “intellectual laziness.”

Carr concedes further along in his article that he may just be a worrywart and that his readers should be skeptical of his skepticism. Again, he does not want to come across as an alarmist. In conceding that he may be overly worried, Carr is really asking his readers to ask themselves if they should be worried.  Were these historical thinkers right to be worried? How did we get from there to here? As author George Pullman states in Persuasion: History, Theory, and Practice, “life can be a bit like forgetting what the last exit was” ( Pullman 155). So, in providing his audience with a history, Carr is providing them with a tool to “revise their understanding of the present situation” (155).

Carr also utilizes the present-to-future framing strategy in asking his audience to think about what Pullman refers to as “unintended consequences” of technology (Pullman 155).  Is our reliance on Google and the Internet turning us into a stack of “pancake people – spread wide and thin?” (Carr).

Throughout his article, Carr embeds the most popular ideas and thoughts of technological innovators to create a cohesive background; this makes his argument appealing and persuasive. At the end of his article, Carr returns to his use of supercomputer HAL. He reminds ‘we humans’ of how upset HAL was that his mind was being disassembled by astronaut Dave. He links HALs position or fate to our own in that, because of our reliance on computers, we have become machinelike and it’s as if our intelligence has become artificial. Tying the past to the present allows Carr to make strong and convincing arguments that not only support his position on the issue, but also offers his audience the opportunity to think critically about their position.