In: "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains"
In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn’t matter. It’s how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves. The implication, comforting in its hubris, is that we’re in control.
The intellectual ethic of a technology is rarely recognized by its inventors. They are usually so intent on solving a particular problem or untangling some thorny scientific or engineering dilemma that they don’t see the broader implications of their work.
With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.
What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.
the constant shifting of our attention when we’re online may make our brains more nimble when it comes to multitasking, but improving our ability to multitask actually hampers our ability to think deeply and creatively.
Michael Merzenich offers an even bleaker assessment. As we multitask online, he says, we are “training our brains to pay attention to the crap.” The consequences for our intellectual lives may prove “deadly.”
In his 1993 book Technopoly, Neil Postman distilled the main tenets of Taylor’s system of scientific management. Taylorism, he wrote, is founded on six assumptions: “that the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency; that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment; that in fact human judgment cannot be trusted, because it is plagued by laxity, ambiguity, and unnecessary complexity; that subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking; that what cannot be measured either does not exist or is of no value; and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.”11 What’s remarkable is how well Postman’s summary encapsulates Google’s own intellectual ethic.
Only one tweak is required to bring it up to date. Google doesn’t believe that the affairs of citizens are best guided by experts. It believes that those affairs are best guided by software algorithms—which is exactly what Taylor would have believed had powerful digital computers been around in his day.
Google is neither God nor Satan, and if there are shadows in the Googleplex they’re no more than the delusions of grandeur. What’s disturbing about the company’s founders is not their boyish desire to create an amazingly cool machine that will be able to outthink its creators, but the pinched conception of the human mind that gives rise to such a desire.
Those who celebrate the “outsourcing” of memory to the Web have been misled by a metaphor. They overlook the fundamentally organic nature of biological memory.
The brighter the software, the dimmer the user.