I am a bit late to the show, but I would like to comment on Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? Carr’s observation is simple:
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 are my thoughts:
- Quite often, as a teenager, I would read long-winded technical books and conclude “Oh! That’s what he meant to say”. Unavoidably, I would find a very concise way to represent the same information. I am not surprised if people read fewer books, assuming that is even true, because large textbooks are not an optimal communication channel. Books have several deficiencies: they are static, they are not interactive, and they are often not concise. It would not do to try to publish a 12-page book, so authors have a strong incentive to elaborate (sometimes uselessly).
- My research has grown better thanks to the Web, not worse. I can quickly survey a field, cross-reference statements, drill-down on an issue, roll-up to get an overview, and so on. Anyone who claims researchers were better off without the Web should try cutting off his net connection for a decade, and see what happens. I doubt very much if the research would be any deeper, it might just become narrower.
- At all time throughout history, few people have given serious thought to any one topic. The fact that you, as an individual, spend your time facing issues that you cannot think through, does not mean that as a whole, humanity has become shallow.
- You must not let yourself be overwhelmed. There are proper ways to use the Web. What you do not want to do is to try to stay afloat by skimming the new events. Setup filters and remain firm in your dedication to a few objects. Learn to focus in the chaos. Be rude: if something is outside the scope of your interests, say so. Technology can extend its coverage infinitely, you cannot.