A Comparison of Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid” and Plato’s “Phaedrus”
The change that has been brought about in the fabric of our day to day lives has at the hands of the technological revolution has been extensive, which remains especially so when it comes to the mode and manner in which individuals consume information today. It is this bombardment of information, Nicholas Carr contends, and the ease with which we are able to ‘swipe’ through it that has impacted our ability to process and internalize smaller doses. Plato, on the other hand, was dismissive of the fear that was anticipated with the advent of every “every new tool or machine”, as expecting the worse of new technology echoed through the ages, whether it be with the arrival of the printing press, or telltale facts on social media. The reproach offered in Carr’s personal account of his growing inability to retain focus on a more ‘traditional’ source of information, such as a printed book, in light of Plato’s Phaedrus would provide that this hesitance is rote, but would in retrospect, with the normalization of such information acquiring practices, appear benign.
“Dave, my mind is going,” are the words of HAL in Kubrick’s science-fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, and they offer a blatant reflection of the deterioration of Carr’s ability to consume information. Carr’s introductory passage about HAL, followed by an account of how he feels similar, denotes a growing fear with which he ascribes his thought. His intention to ascribe that “[he] can feel it, too” demonstrates that he, too, is troubled by the framework he finds himself in. The short length the sentences he strings together in the second paragraph reflect his inability to retain the focus or drive to consumer longer lengths of information as he once could.
In an older age, Socrates, like Carr today, wasn’t so sure about the development of writing; Phaedrus contended that humans would, as a consequence of growing reliance on written information “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” However, Socrates is quick to contend that “first prophecies were the word of the oak.” This oscillation of contentions from both sides is very accessible in the form of a conversation, and as such, may be why Plato utilized such as a format in presenting his outlook.
Carr’s research provides that, we are today, as Phaedrus had feared, reading more and more than we ever had in the past, albeit, “a different kind of reading”, where we have become accustomed to limiting ourselves to content pages and titles, while refraining from a deeper engagement with any individual text. The blinding plethora of content available at our fingertips is responsible for our tendency to effortlessly filter through the information at our disposal. He describes the web as a phenomenon that has, without his consent, but in the darkness, changed the way his thinks, making him a prisoner to merely “scanning headlines and blog posts” and incapable of realizing intellectual vibrations. He fairly provides that the kind of deep thinking that is nurtured with reading “a sequence of printed pages” is not possible when bombarded with information.
Despite the conviction of his arguments, it is easy to be swayed by the proposition put forth by Plato and our ability to fear the new. “He will likely sow gardens of letters for the sake of amusing himself”, he writes of a noble man, as if it were an uncultured practice looked down upon by a higher entity. His intention to employ the word “amuse” demonstrates Phaerus’s understanding that the writing is a pursuit based on leisure offering no deeper meaning.
As Carr puts it, the web “has been a godsend” to him as a writer, and to any other individual who seeks information of any sort; it offers quick, easy and convenient access to information at your fingertips. At the same time, he dismisses this plethora of information as mere ‘content’ that restricts us from deep thinking. However, Plato’s comparison of a painting and writing contends that they are both sources of information that evoke thought and images, and as such, encourage deep thinking. As such, in this moment it time, the discourse surrounding the role of “google in making [us] dumb” is not surprising, in light of Plato’s views. An inspection of the conviction of Carr’s views, however, demonstrate that maybe the internet hasn’t made us as dumb as we think we have become. However, time retains the capacity to reshape these prevailing notions and criticisms held regarding the nature by which our capacity to think has been reshaped by the conveniences of technology, and perhaps a Carr from an age yet to come would argue differently.
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