Traditionally, advancements are thought to be beneficial but this is not always the case. As technology’s grip on our lives tightens, it can be difficult to admit that convenience is not equivalent to the value of our brains. The internet can have both positive and negative influences but as Carr and Pinker illustrate, we determine the magnitude of influence.
In his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr discusses how our minds and attention spans are being altered by our frequent use of the internet.
Carr explains that because reading from a screen is vastly different from reading a paper source, it is changing our brains by “chipping away capacity for concentration and contemplation” (Carr). When we search the world-wide-web, every snippet of information we seek is at the tip of our finger and, due to recent development, we no longer need to pour over long texts. Carr figures that, because of technology, we are incapable of critical thinking and reading.
Carr, in the beginning, recounts a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. A histrionic moment when the supercomputer HAL pleads for his life as he is being dismantled. HAL says forlornly, “…my mind is going,” “I can feel it, I can feel it.” Carr includes this reference because he seeks to draw a parallel, that our brains are undergoing the same process as HAL’s. Unlike HAL who was dismantled, we are sabotaging ourselves. In his writing, Carr reveals that he has “an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain… reprogramming my memory” (Carr).
Carr is again referring to his reduced cognition seemingly due to his frequent and prolonged use of the internet. As new and faster methods of obtaining information become available, Carr argues that we trade our intellect for convenience. We have become fearful of being wrong and slow, so we accept that programs like Google have all the answers, and therefore, we fail to put forth the effort required to analyze and interpret.
Carr assures his audience they are not the only people to have a decline in cognition due to prolonged periods spent online. Carr then accounts for acquaintances with similar experiences. Carr’s friends and acquaintances say, “The more they use the web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing” (Carr).
It was mere decades ago when books and other print media were primarily used for research but now that technology is being encouraged for intellectual and academic purposes, books are often neglected as a source. Carr declares, “Research that once required days…can be done in minutes” (Carr). Here, Carr is mentioning the benefits of using the internet. Carr includes this to increase the credibility of his argument. By addressing both the pros and cons of using the internet, Carr is allowing his audience to see the validity of his article and understand where he is coming from.
Carr then recognizes that his “anecdotes” could be reinforced with research from a credible source (Carr). He cites a study, done by researchers at the University College of London, in which the ways users of research websites were observed to simply skim information and move on to another topic, rarely returning. Carr cites this study because it was executed at a well-known university, making it a reliable addition to his argument. Carr also quotes a developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolfe who explains that reading promoted by the internet “may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology…when we read online, we tend to become mere decoders of information” (Carr). By including this in his argument, Carr furthers his credibility and central point that our brains will take in information the way we tell them to, even if that proves to be detrimental.
Carr includes a third source, a quote from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, regarding a typewriter he bought in 1882. According to Nietzsche, “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts” (Carr). This short statement lends support to Carr’s main claim, that the internet alters the way we perceive information. While the validity of Carr’s inclusion of Nietzsche’s quotation can be disputed because it is an anecdote from over one hundred years ago, the use of a prominent figure with a similar view serves to reinforce Carr’s argument.
Overall, Carr’s appeals to the logic of his audience rely heavily on the data and sources he includes in his article. The weight of Carr’s data and personal anecdotes proved to his readers that there is evidence of a shift in the way we think and read due to evolving technology. By relying on logos focused examples, Carr crafts the cornerstone of his argument, anchoring his claims to real examples, giving strong credence to his personal views.
Steven Pinker, on the other hand, attempts to prove the positive effects of new media on cognitive development. In Pinker’s article, “Mind Over Mass Media,” he claims that media and technology better our lives by helping us to “manage, search, and retrieve” information (Pinker). To support his claims, Pinker utilizes general facts and logical conclusions. For example, Pinker states, “when comic books were assumed of turning juveniles into delinquents in the 1950s, crime was falling to record lows…”(Pinker). Through the inclusion of facts such as this, Pinker is able to support his attack against claims that media and new technologies are harmful. Pinker demonstrates that despite people’s fears, development did not stop.
Continuing his trend of examples from the past, Pinker observes, “…the denunciations of video games in the 1990s coincided with the great American crime decline,” and that “…television, transistor radios, and rock videos were also decades in which I.Q. scores rose continuously” (Pinker). Pinker’s claims coupled with historical evidence allows him to solidify his appeal to readers logic. To further his appeal to logic, Pinker addresses how critics of new media and technology think the brain is affected by exposure. The inclusion of opinions from experts outside of his field allows Pinker to establish an appeal to authority.
Pinker is very knowledgeable of both sides of his argument; this is demonstrated in the references and psychology studies he cites. Pinker’s use of appeals to ethics is another way his credibility is strengthened. Pinker has extensive credentials: he is a professor of psychology at Harvard University, the author of a bestseller, and a frequent writer to The New Yorker. As a professional psychologist, the audience assumes Pinker’s understanding of how the mind works would be significantly greater than average. This further persuades Pinker’s audience, as he is seen as a legitimate source to be making these claims.
Pinker also successfully appeals to his reader’s sense of humor when comparing the views of media critics regarding the effects of technology on the brain to “…primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce” (Pinker). The way Pinker responds is with a sarcastic tone that adds character to his points.
Through his direct use of ethos, pathos, and logos, Pinker’s article functions as an effective argument. Pinker delivers his views using sarcasm, protected by his rationality and credentials as an educated, well-known intellectual. Because Pinker’s audience is likely to relate to some aspect of the article, whether it be his amusing commentary or his popular topic, Pinker has successfully utilized appeals to convince his audience that technology is not to be feared.
So the question is- Is the internet really altering our cognitive abilities? In my opinion, we cannot demonize technology because of our short attention spans, lack of interest in books, or tendencies to hop from one idea to the next. Overall, I tend to agree more with Pinker; but, I believe Carr’s argument was more effective. Despite the ideas Pinker presents well, his writing lacks decisive sources.
Carr uses the first part of his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” to establish credibility and examine causes of reduced cognition using rhetorical proof. “Mind Over Mass Media,” however, is about the future and how advances have bettered us. Pinker addresses which medias and technologies are successful and why or how they have been successful. The internet can have both positive and negative influences but as Carr and Pinker illustrate, we determine the magnitude of its influence. While new developments are beneficial, we must also consider the cost of convenience.