Pulitzer Prize finalist, Nicholas Carr, argues in his 2008 essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” that the internet has altered our way of thinking and decreased our concentration and critical thinking skills. He claims this is due to the way information is provided to the public through the media. Carr begins his article by making a connection to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey proving that not only is he a literary scholar but someone who is aware of pop culture. Carr identifies more with the computer HAL rather the human in the reference. His initial reference makes him a credible source because it establishes he is well-developed academic and can relate to the audience avoiding a disconnect between himself and younger audiences. Nicholas Carr uses many means to establish his point that Google is affecting our ability to think critically and concentrate on long works including personal observations, research, anecdotes as well as playing on ethos, pathos, and logos.
The beginning of Carr’s essay begins with a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. He does this with the audience he wishes to reach in mind. Stanley Kubrick’s film first debuted in 1968. Clearly, he did not intend for his audience to be younger. The essay was also originally published on The Atlantic’s website whose mission is to provide “breakthrough insights into the world of politics, business, the arts, and culture” (The Atlantic). From The Atlantic’s mission statement, it can be further inferred that his audience is for those who are older, educated, and aware of rising issues. Carr’s reference illustrates the main character, Dave Bowman, unplugging HAL, the faulty machine with artificial intelligence that is controlling his space expedition (Carr). The scene chosen is a strong connector to the anecdote that Carr shares. Just as HAL cries, “Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it.” Carr too can feel his brain remapping but not necessarily “going”. He claims he can no longer focus on lengthy works anymore and that he lacks the concentration to continue reading. He asserts that it is because of the increasing amount of time he spends online (Carr). Statements like “I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do” and “always dragging my wayward brain back to the text” is Carr using pathos to evoke a feeling of familiarity out of his audience to strengthen his argument (Carr). Although HAL, the artificial intelligence, seemed concerned with the fact he was losing his mind, Car did not elicit the same emotions. Instead, his tone remains calm and even confident in what he believes is the answer is to this problem. Writing in a neutral tone while discussing the matter prevents disagreeing audiences from feeling ostracized. It also sets his work apart from other essays, studies, and articles that write about similar topics but with more aggressive tones that typically divert readers. Carr does not want his audience to feel attacked or defensive but rather informed and open-minded. His choice of tone suggests that Carr believes his audience have shared similar experiences.
The Internet is not all negatives for Carr. Following his anecdote, Carr notes the ways the Internet has advanced and contributed to his work. He no longer is spending a considerable amount of time researching because search engines have eliminated the need to waste days probing library shelves for potential answers (Carr). Carr includes the benefits the Internet grants him to appeal to his credibility. He wants to present himself as a competent Internet user who is not opposed to technological advances contrary to the belief that older generations have an animosity for the technological world. Carr explains that like others the Internet is what is providing the information that is continuously being supplied to our minds. This further strengthens his credibility because he is finding commonalities with his audience by mentioning he is not alone when it comes to the Internet being his main provider for information. Carr states that these providers are not “passive channels” and that the media is what is shaping our thought processes (Carr). The Internet is damaging his ability to concentrate and think deeply. Carr shares what his normal day on the Internet consists of and reveals himself as a victim of the very thing he dislikes. His ability to look at both viewpoints leads the audience to believe he is impartial which further boosts his credibility.
Carr then appeals to the audience’s emotions by employing pathos. He asserts that not only has the Internet begun to affect the way we think but it is also molding our overall Internet experience. Carr states that the Internet “absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image” and that it continuously “injects” more content into our line of sight (Carr). This leads to our concentration weakening which then affects how our brains work overall. It trains our brain to only be able to do things in short snippets. His use of such forceful and even unpleasant phrases imply that the Internet is no longer functioning how it used to. The information we are receiving is not meant for deep or contemplative thought rather it wants to shove as much information as possible into the eyes of the viewers diminishing the Internet’s original purpose. Its conventional usage has been destroyed.
Shortly after employing pathos, Carr’s tone changes from calm and confident to uneasy and bothered. His shift of tone meets the emotions he wants his audience to feel after learning about the dramatic shifts the Internet has made in their daily lives. The Internet not only alters the way other online media sources present their information to us. It is forcing “old media” to abide by “new-media rules” (Carr). Carr references The New York Times as his old media source, explaining that “‘shortcuts’ would give harried readers a quick ‘taste’ of the day’s news, sparing them the ‘less efficient’ method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles” (Carr). Carr alludes to the idea the even highly acclaimed newspapers and other forms of print are losing the ability to provide rich and insightful information to its audience because it is being forced into the new-media standards. This only adds to the list of important information society continues to be deprived of. He continues his argument by stating “Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us” (Carr). Carr is suggesting that our new-media is damaging the way people think and will continue to. It can even get to a point where it destroys itself because its audience will no longer even have the ability to critically think and absorb the information it is giving. Society is conforming to the standards of our new medium like perfectly wired robots. The idea and thought of this occurring impacts the audience in a way where they may feel uneasy and bothered aligning with Carr’s tone. If the mere idea that most of society is following the new-media standards like robots does not unsettle a reader enough Carr reverts back to the use of ethos. Carr references Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, including a statement where Brin essentially hinted we would all be better off with an artificial brain and statement from Page stating Google is actually trying to create one (Carr). Referencing highly credible figures proposing such far-out ideas brings a sense of reality to the reader that the fear of technology taking over and completely diminishing our traditional ways of thought is very real.
Whether or not the Internet is truly affecting our brains negatively can always be debated. However, Carr drew on many literary tools to make a strengthen his argument that Google is affecting the way we think and it is not necessarily for the better. Humans have become heavily reliant on this new medium which in return has altered the way people can critically think and accomplish small tasks like reading a few pages. Once a small thing, now a new medium for today’s world, the Internet has impacted the daily lives of people everywhere and contributes to the constantly changing media outlets.
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