Monday, August 8, 2011

Going Gaga over Google?

I recently read a hard-hitting article on how Google was making us stupid by Nicholas Carr a popular columnist for The Atlantic magazine based in the US. And it really got me thinking. Are we being fooled into believing that Google has revolutionized the way we think for the better?
It’s true that the search engine has taken over our lives in more ways than one. I for one can shamelessly admit to the fact that it’s made me sound so much more intelligent, when someone senior talks to me about a company or an allegedly important person that I have no clue about. It takes me only less than 4 seconds to give a detailed bio-data on that person by quickly typing his/her name on the magic toggle-bar and tadaa. I feel good about myself again ( Don't you dare snort at this. I'm sure each and everyone of us have been there and done that.)
Nicholas claims that receiving information on the click of a button has slowed down our process for retaining information and our capacity to sit down and digest copious amounts of text at one go. We get fidgety, distracted and worse, simply skim through the data, thereby skipping relevant information is a high possibility.
Marshall McLuhan’s theory of technological determinism; something I studied in theory for my exams last year is suddenly making sense to me now. In a nutshell, he stated that the medium of the message determines the way we perceive this message. So in this case, we perceive our message in nuggets that we are most likely to forget sooner or later rather than a thorough understanding of the subject. Similarly, when Google spoon-feeds exactly what we want to research on, then where is the question of research? The whole purpose of research is defeated.

It is also likely that our attention span has reduced to 4 seconds. That’s right. That same amount of time that it takes to ‘google’ a word.
Yes, it saves a hell of a lot of time. But don’t you think the time you spend in a library or looking at hundreds of journals, archives and documentaries is much more self-satisfying than the instant gratification we get when we see 12 pages of hits on our specific subject of study?
So when McLuhan claims that the a change in the technological medium( in this contaxt, Google) will not only supply to our thoughts, but change the entire thought process by itself. Carr puts it so well, “
Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.’’
This trend is also reflected in today’s contemporary news media where it is becoming an increasingly common sight of newspapers giving out quick bites of news items by giving them a choice to read further only if they want by continuing the story in a supplementary page and summarising complex scams or social issues into little boxes on the side. It’s safe to blame this trend on the advent of the internet as it has chipped our threshold for contemplation and concentration.
This effect really hit me when I went to the Center for Education and Documentation(CED) for a project I was doing on how the Indian media covered the Godhra Riots of 2002 which required me to look at their archives. I walked in there and felt lost. The entire idea of manually looking for hardcopies of old newspaper clippings seemed so alien, so archaic to me. That’s when my respect for the yester-year journalists took a quantum leap. This place must have been their relic. And today, you’ll be surprised if you see more than a handful of people here.
This doesn’t take away from the enormous credibility of Mr. Sergey Brin and Larry page, the geniuses behind Google. I’m no luddite or nostalgist, but I long to go back to those days when it was so easy for me to read back to back Jeffrey Archer novels in a single sitting on those lovely Sundays.

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