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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Is Google Changing How We Read and Think?

Have You All Seen the Cover Story in the Atlantic Monthly? I happened to see it in a friend’s beach bag, and read it as fast as I could. Nicholas Carr is making a two-fold argument — that the technology through which we receive information (words, print, TV, the internet) actually influences how we process that information, in other words, the medium changes the message, it alters how we are able to think. That is the first contention — and I am not at all sure I believe it. The second contention is that the effect of the kind of searches Google makes possible is to make us speedy, rapid, readers who trawl for bits and bites who grab at quick info-snacks, and no longer have the patience to sink into a book, or to follow a deep and cmoplex argument. 

Reading the article I kept feeling that Carr was sloppy, overgeneralizing, substituting impressions, instances, anecdotes for real analysis. And yet, I must admit that I just got a Blackberry, and I notice that it does encourage a kind of horizontal experience. That is, the satisfaction of many immediate connections — email, phone, the web, — is quite compelling. Now I happen to also have just started a very long nonfiction book, Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, which I just love. So the greater access that new device makes possible has not made me any less drawn to long, complex books. That is my experience — what is yours?

I would love to hear from those of you who have read the AM article. Are you convinced that technology changes how we think? Do you believe the Google search model is making us think faster and more broadly at the expense of slow and deep? My impulse is to doubt or severely question the first contention and discount the second as a scare story. But I have the nagging sesne that I am too quickly dismissing something I should think through more carefully.

What do you think?


  1. Well, the article is hardly scientific research. I think the aspect of the internet– anecdotally– that I have noticed most is that we are receiving so much more input per minute than ever before that we are being pushed to take in information in quick bites and pieces. Example: I watch PBS for the evening news, and I sometimes am yawning at the talking heads elaborating with jargon over the issues, but I absolutely refuse to get my news from those quick soundbites that the networks put out.

    I tend to surf when I’m interested so I can delve deep when I find a real respected source that I can sink into. If it’s just something I need (not want)to know, then quick bites is all I want to take on.

    My two email accounts, the blogs I like to check, the newspaper (yes, I still get it every day) the ads, billboards, list serves, etc. They’re all clogging my brain.