Is Google Making you Stupid?

Yeah, Stephen Krashen says in our Web 2.0 world we’re actually reading more than ever, and so does Bill. Can’t argue with that. But what kind of reading is it?

Check this out for an intriguing and disturbing take. I’ll be thinking hard about its questions this summer, as as I mull over when, where, and how to incorporate more– or less?– technology into my classroom next year. As a lowly public servant I can’t always afford a hard copy of The Atlantic, but luckily I saw this one in my doctor’s office, where at least they don’t have tabletops full of Kindles. Yet.

8 thoughts on “Is Google Making you Stupid?

  1. Bah. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Carr bemoans the encapsulated news stories the Times started running in March, never mind that such stories have been around as “news briefs” for decades; it’s also why newspapers have headlines rather than titles.

    To his credit, he does touch on Phaedrus (Socrates’ anti-writing tirade), as well as the concerns that accompanied the advent of the printing press. I see very little complaint about our inability to retain and recall large quantities of information. I see very few who choose to train their minds in that way. The possibility is still there; we simply choose not to exercise it.

  2. Clix, have you read “Spell of the Sensuous” by David Abram? It makes a very interesting companion piece.

    I see and agree with your point about possibilities and choices, but I don’t think it actually refutes Carr much; nature and nurturing are far too entangled to dismiss his thesis so cavalierly.

    As for “the more things change,” perhaps we differ on this one, but I tend to give credence, instead of skepticism, to a phenomenon observed continually since about 400 BC. 😉

  3. You know, my grandfather used to say that nothing changes, we just hear about things more. I’m surrounded by massive amounts of information all the time now, and how much of it is really important? And who determines what is important? I’m not sure it’s actually making us dumber. I do think it’s making everything seem important all the time though, and thus nothing becomes important. This is what I really struggle with in my teaching. I solve it with very targeted conversations about the technology we’re using, when we’re using it. But I have pulled back lately…

  4. Hey Dina,

    Great article reference—thanks for pointing it out.

    Here’s a few initial reactions from a guy who owns a Kindle and has plugged through five books in two months on it:

    First, I loved the irony of a 5 page online piece about how the internet is fragmenting thought!

    The most intriguing quote in the whole bit was this one:

    It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

    I sense a bit of bias in these words because they suggest that the “power browsing through horizontal titles” is inherently negative.

    Is it possible that this kind of reading is actually more sophisticated because it allows readers to easily make connections between topics of related interest?

    Here’s what I mean:

    We read daily current events from the Internet in class. Because each event includes extensive collections of related links, my students can “power browse” through a topic at great depth with little hassle.

    Ten years ago, my kids would never have investigated an event beyond the initial article. Today, they regularly do so.

    I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

    But more importantly, I’m not sure that these changes can be resisted even if we wanted to. Clay Shirky describes the Internet—and the social technologies that come with it—as a rushing river that we’re trying to kayak our way down.

    Trying to stop our kayak would be impossible—but we can definitely try to steer a clean course to the finish of the river.

    While I’m not sure I agree that reading is changing, I’m not sure that value judging it is worthwhile either. I’d say let’s accept it and adapt.

    This one’s still burbling through my head though…Not sure I have a final answer. Can you tell that I’m thinking out loud here.

    Rock on,

  5. We don’t just read differently when gathering information on the Internet, we read _better_ and more efficiently. The Atlantic article was fun and I love this topic, but it really buries the lead: skimming works better in this situation than reading cover-to-cover.

    (There’s a related Slate article that refers to a recent Jakob Nielsen article. Nielsen, as usual, is spot on. The Slate article, surprisingly, seems to enjoy trying hard to not understand.)

  6. @Dave (in a fun Irish accent): oh lord, you’ve pushed me buttons now, you have. As I state in the post I just put up, I can get with the idea that ‘Net reading uses? requires? a *changing* set of skills, ones which are not necessarily bad. Certainly, as Bill says, to be able to click on a link that brings background knowledge to our kids’ fingertips is wonderful.

    But EFFICIENT does not automatically equal BETTER– and it never will.

    Same goes for you, Bill (and how did I *know* you’d call me out on dissing Kindles?) 😉 I would bet you a cookie, for example, that when you say kids investigate a topic “in depth,” it’s because *you* have taught them how to read that content in depth. All the Internet does is provide the content in (efficient) *breadth*. And that’s great. But without your underpinning it with critical thinking skills, careful analysis, and comprehension strategies, what’s the tradeoff? I worry that it’s the situation described in The Atlantic article.

  7. P.S. And just curious, Bill– when you really want your kids to take time with text, really dig into it– do you print it out for them? (big smile…)

  8. Dina asked:
    P.S. And just curious, Bill– when you really want your kids to take time with text, really dig into it– do you print it out for them? (big smile…)

    Hey Dina,

    Good question—and the answer is yes ONLY because we don’t have enough computers for every kid to have their own.

    We teach our students to annotate EVERYTHING that they read because to us, annotation forces students to slow down while reading regardless of where they are reading. Over the course of the school year, annotation becomes second nature for our students—and they actually seem to enjoy it!

    But annotation isn’t limited to paper copies anymore! One of my new favorite web tools is Diigo—which is a lot like Delicious, in the sense that you can bookmark favorite websites and see the sites bookmarked by others.

    What makes Diigo different is that you can also form groups with other users, share links to interesting articles with one another, and add ANNOTATIONS that the other members of your group can see!

    I literally almost wet my pants when I discovered it, imagining a time when my students could read a shared text and reflect on it together, reading and responding to one another’s annotations.

    I was also jazzed by the thought of being able to use Diigo to add my own annotations to articles we were studying in class that would draw student attention to elements of the text that I thought were important to see.

    Talk about the ultimate “Think Aloud!”

    It’s not working for me yet though. Here’s why:

    1. Every student would need a Diigo account and the Diigo toolbar installed on their computer in order to see annotations.

    I could probably convince the parents of my school to do this at home (if they had the Internet), but I’m not sure I’m going to ever convince the school district to allow Diigo to be installed on every computer in the building.

    Without the toolbars, annotations can’t be seen.

    2. In class reading would be Diigo-Free only because we have three computers in our classroom! Unless every child had access to a computer when we were reading together, we wouldn’t be able to get our annotation on.

    It’ll get there, though, Di! It’ll get there.

    Whaddya’ think of that?!

    (evil grin)

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