Gewgaws: false dichotomies in scare-tactic journalism

The very first thing I noticed in reading the Carr article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” was the fact that the editors missed an end quote in the second sentence. Pity. While I read the article, my mind immediately jumped to categorize Carr as a Luddite—a point he touches on very briefly near the conclusion as a means to dismiss such a category. My largest concern, though, comes from passages such as, “When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws…” Well, first off—nice use of the term “gewgaws.” Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what this statement contains that is subject to critical deconstruction is the implication that the “Net” is at all separate from human thought or action. Carr grants that the “Net” influences the way in which we think, but he fails to recognize that the human hive-mind creates the content and structure that “It” operates within. To speak of the “singularity” is another topic altogether and would slightly change the thesis I might offer.

Going back to the Luddite business—of course there have been skepticisms in relation to a vast variety of new technologies as they are implemented throughout history. One, in particular, that Carr mentioned is the transition from oral traditions to the written word. It would be foolish at this point to argue that the Internet has not drastically changed the way in which human beings interact and process information. The question that remains is whether the change is an improvement.

The second instance of Carr’s tendency to present the Internet as a separate entity from those who founded, wrote, and continue to grow the Net is a line like, “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.” Here again, I would suggest that the separation between our thoughts and the Internet is a false dichotomy. While the Internet continues to exert an influence over our mental processes, it is very much a product of those same mental processes.

Of course, striking fear into the common reader is one tactic that one might employ in order to sell a newspaper. What this article does not seem to offer is any variety of suitable alternative or solution to the wolf cry which it seems to offer. But, Carr takes it even further when he vilifies those who are working to create the next development of the human psyche by qualifying their efforts, “Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ.” Ultimately, while I thought that Carr brought up interesting points and was published (online) at a venue I respect, it fell short of what I would consider a revelatory read.