In a writing class I teach at Keuka College, we are reading the “classic” essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” written by Nicholas Carr in 2008 (which already feels like eons ago.) The essay is part of the class Discussion Forum in which we comment and respond to each other — or you!
Looking at how the Internet shapes reading and writing practices, Carr covers terrain and ideas echoed by many social critics (using Google as shorthand for the whole digital world).
Using himself as a case in point, Carr laments our shortening attention span and decline of the long narrative:
Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore.
Describing the experience of his fellow bloggers and literary types, Carr says the more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.
Bruce Freidman, University of Michigan Medical School faculty member who blogs about computers and medicine, put the phenomenon bluntly if not succinctly:
I can’t read War and Peace anymore. I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.
Relatively new to blogging, as I try to entice viewers to choose mine among the dozens of revolving options on the screen, I too feel the need to write short, “quick hit” posts (like this one was supposed to be). Always in my mind is that millennial acronym, TLTR (Too Long To Read).
I have certainly been “guilty” of War and Peace-like tomes: How do union teachers teach about unions?, Remembering General Otis on his Day, June 15th: Rochester’s imperial war hero, What the New East will be and not be.
Interestingly, the shortest post, Anticipating the Ferguson verdict, was actually written as a group in real time during an earlier Keuka class.
The teacher in me offers an extra credit assignment. Read the essay in the Atlantic (2008), comment and join the conversation with our class. Is Google making us stupid?