In his cover article in the July/August issue of the The Atlantic Monthly (“Is Google Making Us Stupid?“), Nicholas Carr raises what for some will be an alarming prospect: that we may soon face the end of reading, the end of thinking, and the end of culture as we have known them for hundreds of years, thanks to the Internet and the dramatic ways in which it is reshaping the way we learn, interact, and express ourselves.
He begins with a personal reflection:
“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. 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. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
Carr believes the problem stems from the years he has spent on the Internet. For a writer, researcher, and blogger like him, the Net has been a blessing, he admits, putting hitherto unprecedented volumes of information at his fingertips. But the blessing has also been a curse because of how the Internet does it. “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles,” he says. “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
Here at Britannica, the article struck us as important, and not simply because Carr is a member of our editorial board. That his stark vision of the future is both noteworthy and, at the same time, that it may not be the final word on the subject prompted us to hold a forum on the Britannica Blog in which we invited comments from several other writers who think intelligently about these issues. Contributors, in addition to Carr, include Clay Shirky, Sven Birkerts, Larry Sanger, Michael Gorman, Robert McHenry, and Matthew Battles. Come and see the forum at the Britannica Blog.