Nicholas Carr makes in "Is Google Making Us Stupid" is a familiar one. As I read Carr's notes and arguments, I find myself reminded of the coming of the calculator. In Sherry Turkle's "How Computers Change the Way We Think", she mentions, "several senior professors in engineering complained that the transition from slide rules to calculators affected their students" (1). With the coming of each new development in the ecology of media, comes a passionate skeptic of the new technology. Turkle herself seems to argue early in the computer's history that the device itself is making "today's college students (take) things at face value" (3). She referred to the future generations knowing less and less about how the computer functioned. Perhaps she could have predicted that less and less of us would know the true functioning of anything. Carr refers to himself "zip(ping) along the surface" of information. We have grown accustomed to searching out only the facts relevant to our current need, and ignoring the vast history behind many topics. Carr references playwright Richard Foreman's term "pancake people" (6). He sees a society of people who know a little about everything, and a lot about nothing. Nevertheless, does this mean we are stupid?
Intelligence is a very hard term to define. Dictionary.com provides five definitions. The first is "capacity for learning" and another is "the faculty of understanding". These seem to argue each other when placed in the context of today's Google user. "Capacity for learning" implies a quantitative property. By this definition, a person today is more intelligent than the pre-Google generation because of the vastness of information at our fingertips. "Faculty of understanding" implies the opposite. Understanding is a more qualitative term which seems to favor a person knowing more about a topic as a tradeoff of know simply "more topics." I chose dictionary.com to find this definition as opposed to a hardcopy of Merriam-Webster. My view is this was an intelligent choice. I accessed the most up-to-date information in a fraction of the time it would take to use an actual book. The interesting thing is that I did not consider using the actual book. The fact that a choice even existed crossed my mind only because of the nature of this discussion.
Carr says, "the human brain is almost infinitely malleable" (3). It seems that my brain, one that what seems like yesterday, would have thought first of the book and second of the internet, has been molded to interact digitally. Is it too late for me? Have I become stupid because of Google? I certainly do not think so. I see technology as a supplement, part of the evolution of humankind. Just as we can no longer imaging thinking in a society lacking of the phonetic alphabet, soon we will no longer be able to imagine a society without information at our fingertips. I do not believe this is a sign of stupidity. It is possible that a time-traveler from an age before print would see us as stupid because of our inability to memorize. We may indeed think of this relic of the past as stupid because they cannot read. I believe neither is the case. Our brains will continue to mold. The next technology will prove that, but we will all be intelligent within the context of our place and time.