Monday, 17 November 2014

has the internet traded wisdom for knowledge?

I remember this article when it came out. It still makes for interesting reading and I find that some of his concerns about reading habits and thinking resonate with my own experiences of reading. Carr likened surfing the internet to shallow thought with minds being stretched thin over the connections of the network. It inhibits deep thinking and instead promotes superficial skimming of text while being bombarded with suggestions for where else to focus your attention. He suggests that this is in the best interests of advertisers and data miners for commerce. Deep thoughtful consideration does not promote concentration on how to best spend your salary. Somehow the medium is the message in Marshall McLuhan's terms. The medium/the internet is changing the way we think looking for connections rather than consideration of the text at hand. Rather than carefully considering what has been written, rather than carefully considering the meaning laden within the text we would rather look for how it is connected to other knowledge - we wish to see how far the network can spread.

I found it an ironic experience to be reading Carr's article online at the Atlantic website. Exactly what he describes in his article was happening to me. While reading his article about how reading on the internet is a distracted activity, there were advertisements and suggestions for connected reading popping up in the midst of his article. I suspect that Carr would have laughed or cried at that.

Carr does acknowledge that with new technologies (printing press, writing, the computer) come new capabilities that improve human interaction and knowledge. He acknowledges this despite his scepticism about how Google is changing how we think. I wonder if one of the blessings of the internet is the integration of knowledge. But does it come at the cost of deep understanding of the knowledge? Have we gained integration of knowledge at the expense of wisdom?


Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stupid? Atlantic, 302(1), 56–63. Retrieved from