The ability to review and evaluate texts often depends not only on one’s ability to criticize but also on the ability to be self-reflective and fair. As Harris points out, there is no need to re-represent the text; rather, the writer should translate it from the author’s language to her/his own (15).
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Carr’s project is to show the reader that the Internet, despite its various advantages and potential to increase human efficiency, also changes our minds and the way we think, accept, and process information (par. 2). He provides examples: Google’s approach toward the Internet is based on maximum efficiency and systematization, scientists’ work on artificial intelligence as a way to improve human brain, and professionals develop the inability to read “deeply” and reflect on the information they find online (par. 6). Carr suggests that we should be more attentive to the influence the Internet has on our thinking and reflect on the AI’s ability to make us more efficient but less human (par. 36).
Carr points out that he, as a writer, has noticed that his perception of texts became more shallow and idle because online articles demanded fast-paced reading that mostly focused on central themes and info snippets (par. 20). Despite the existing belief that the human brain ceases to reprogram itself as we get older, the research proved that it can “reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions” (Carr para. 14). A similar change was caused by the invention of the mechanical clock when humanity began to measure time with specific tools, thus scheduling life with precise numbers (hours and minutes) (Carr par. 16).
The Net’s absorption of media results in pop-up ads, constant notifications, noises, and pictures that lower our ability to concentrate and directly interfere with our information processing (Carr par. 19). The author argues that what the Internet is doing to our brain is similar to the impact of Taylor’s system on workers during the Industrial Revolution – the labor (i.e. the thinking) became more precise, automatic, and calculated (Carr par. 24).
The human wish to improve brain by replacing or combining it with AI is both fascinating and terrifying because “it suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process” and not a human ability that does not have distinct boundaries that can be measured (Carr par. 29). Still, Carr admits that the reader should be skeptical toward his worries because the greatest inventions are always feared but also bring thousands of opportunities (Carr par. 32). Nevertheless, the danger of losing some parts of our culture and ourselves remains very real, even if not exactly evident (Carr par. 34).
Carr’s arguments are persuasive, evidence-based, and emotionally appealing. Most of the issues he describes we face every day, and some of us notice that the reading patterns we used to have transformed into new ones. The influence of technology on our everyday life is unarguable because it changes the human communication, perception, and even creativity; we write, compose, draw, and perform differently compared to artists of the 20th century.
At the same time, he uses medical evidence and research without providing precise details and builds his arguments upon evidence that does not say anything about the Net’s danger to our thinking. As Crogan and Kingsley point out, “we are faced with the political implications of adopting scientific research without reservation, perhaps making greater claims of importance than are warranted” (15). Scientists do admit that a new form of reading is emerging, but they do not claim it is the only form of reading that will exist in several decades. Thus, Carr uses scientific findings as a backup for his arguments and does not let the reader decide what they actually mean.
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Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, 2008.
Crogan, Patrick, and Samuel Kinsley. “Paying Attention: Toward a Critique of the Attention Economy.” Culture Machine, vol. 13, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1-29.
Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. University Press of Colorado, 2017.