Is Google making us stupid?
That's the tiltle of provocator Nick Carr's piece in this month's Atlantic. Carr is a self-admitted worrywart, who joins a long line of historical worrywarts worrying that new technologies are making us stupid. In fact Carr does such a fine job of rounding up great examples of ancient worrywarts getting it all wrong, it's hard to take his own worry seriously.
For instance as evidence that new technologies can make us stupid he offers this story about the German writer Nietzsche. Near the end of his life Nietzsche got so blind and old he could not write with a pen but learned to touch type (no sight needed) on a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball typewriter. (BTW, this device is one of the coolest gizmos I've seen. Check out the video here. )
Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose "changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style."
So was his change in style due to switching to a machine or was it because Nietzsche was ill and dying?
Likewise, is the ocean of short writing the web has generated due to our minds are getting dumber and incapable of paying attention to long articles, as Carr worries, or is it because we finally have a new vehicle and market place for loads of short things, whereas in the past it short was unprofitable to produce in such quantity? I doubt the former and suspect the latter is the better explanation.
Carr begins his piece describing how smarter he is while using Google. What if Carr is right? What if we were getting dumber when we are off Google, but we were getting loads smarter while we were on Google? That doesn't seem improbable, and in fact seems pretty likely.
Question is, do you get off Google or stay on all the time?
I think that even if the penalty is that you lose 20 points of your natural IQ when you get off Google AI, most of us will choose to keep the 40 IQ points we gain by jacking in all the time.
At least I would.