The Internet Helps Us to Be Smarter – A Reply to Nicholas Carr

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

A couple days ago (June 8), Claude Almansi posted a comment in our ETC listserv, inviting us to submit articles on the “furious* debate going on in the Media Ecology Association mailing list around the new(?) The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains book by Nicholas Carr, of ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ fame.” I poked around in the links she provided and decided to share my two cents.

I haven’t read The Shallows, but from the articles I’ve read, the assumptions underlying Carr’s views seem to be: (1) human beings are prone to distraction and the internet exacerbates the problem and (2) unitasking is healthy and multitasking is not.

The problem with these assumptions is that they oversimplify the thinking-learning process. Distraction is a facet of our ability to multitask, and as such, it can be both good and bad. It’s great to be able to concentrate on the road while driving, but it’s critical for us to be able to react immediately to a car that swerves, without warning, into our lane. This ability to focus on and respond to more than one thing at a time is essential for survival and for thinking. In this case, knowing where the other cars are at all times will determine whether we can safely slow down, speed up, or swerve into the next lane. Continue reading