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June 11, 2008

Is Google (or Microsoft) making you stupid?

There's a very interesting article in The Atlantic from Nicholas Carr in which he argues that the information delivery model of the web (and, in particular, the search engine model) is robbing us of our ability to read and digest information, and consequently affecting the very way we think. Whether this turns out to be a good or a bad thing for the human race remains to be seen (unfortunately, there's little chance of us being able to perform an A/B test on a segment of the population), but one paragraph of Nick's article (which, yes, I did read in its entirety, all the while looking at the clock on my computer thinking that I should be getting on with something else), stood out for me (my highlights):

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

Unfortunately, I feel Mr Carr may have a point here, though as the methods for measuring behavior evolve (for example, by being able to factor in things like time spent looking at a page, rather than just clicks), this incentive may change (online publishers of long-form video, for example, absolutely want the user to sit in front of the same page for 20 minutes). But I don't have time to analyze it further - my inbox is filling up.

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