When a new technology is created, there are always people who believe it is a good thing and there are people who believe it is a bad thing. It is not surprising that people today have the same feelings about the Internet. Some people who use the Internet daily wonder if it is having a bad effect on our minds. For example, Nicholas Carr writes about the Internet’s bad effects in his July 2008 article in The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?.” The Internet can be bad for people, but it is a choice people make if it will be bad for them or improve them.
As an example of how people in history think technology will be bad for people, Carr writes, “In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written words as a substitute for knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would . . . cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful” (7). The bad effect Carr believes that the Internet is having on him is that it “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” (2). Carr believes that reading skills are in danger because of the Internet since reading is an activity that requires concentration. A person who reads a long book must think a lot about what he has read to understand the book’s meaning. Since he started to use the Internet, Carr finds that reading long articles or books is now hard when it used to be easy. He also finds that other people he knows have the same problem, like blogger Scott Karp, who admits he never reads books anymore because he does all of his reading on the Internet. Both Carr and Karp believe that the time they spend on the Internet has changed the way they think and their brains work.
Carr also writes about what happened when Friedrich Nietzsche bought his first typewriter in 1882 and that this typewriter made Nietzsche’s writing worse. German scholar Friedrich A. Kittler said Nietzsche’s writing “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style” (4). This section also shows how Carr’s writing has changed because of the Internet, because says that the typewriter Nietzsche bought was “a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise” (3). He does not even give a source for this information and probably looked it up on Google. The kind of typewriter Nietzsche used has nothing to do with Carr’s belief that it was bad for his writing, and it shows how Google has become bad for writers like Carr.
Carr also writes about Frederick Winslow Taylor’s piece, The Principles of Scientific Management. Taylor had a goal to find the “one best method” of work in places like factories, and he used a stopwatch to see what way of doing things was the fastest (6). Carr writes that “what Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind” (6). The founders of Google believe that things can be better for people if they had access to a supercomputer that is smarter than their own brains, but Carr doubts this. His big worry is that use of the Internet will stop people from having the skill of really thinking about things. He reminds us of Socrates’s concerns about the development of writing: just because we have a lot of information does not mean we really understand what that information means or how to use it. Without instruction and thinking about it, the information is meaningless.
Today, Socrates’s fears about writing seem silly. Like writing, the Internet is a technology that is here to stay. Although the Internet may have the bad effects feared by Carr for some people, the ability to read long pieces of writing and to think about the meaning of them is a choice and should be practiced. As more teachers become aware of how the Internet is used, students can learn from them how to tell what is good and what is not. Therefore, people have a choice about keeping the thinking skills that Carr is worried they will lose by using the Internet.