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“You’re not supposed to read web pages, just click on the hypertexted words!” I remember saying this to my apartment mate in the early 1990s when I was showing her NCSA Mosaic, one of the first graphical web browsers. I was astonished (even irritated) she wanted to read what was on these simple pages. I was a graduate student then, entranced with how new information technology was changing the way we communicate, and staying up half the night because I could get a faster connection to our university’s VAX server in the wee hours of the night.
I’m a graduate student again, and I read a lot – or at least I should be reading a lot – only I don’t. I skim. I scroll. I have very little patience for long, drawn-out, nuanced arguments, even though I accuse others of painting the world too simply. I hate reading the humanities literature, where there are no abstracts, and the thesis could be hidden somewhere in the long, unstructured paragraphs. I ignore footnotes. On the other hand, I am drawn to the medical literature with its structured abstracts, where one has to be a complete moron to miss the main point of the article, and if you do, the author has made it clear in the title, without colons or semi-colons.
Maybe I am a moron, or the Internet has made me one. In a new Atlantic Monthly article entitled, Is , Nicholas Carr tells me that I may not be alone. Making Us Stupid? The Internet may indeed change the way we read and process information. If you can make it through this article (indeed, if you made it this far in my blog post), you may take issue with how Carr describes stupid, and why he takes particular issue with Google. The Internet may have made me a less patient reader, but I think that in many ways, it has made me smarter. More connections to documents, artifacts, and people means more external influences on my thinking and thus on my writing. Thus, this overly pretentious blog post is really the result of many outside influences, and is an act of what Blaise Cronin calls distributed cognition.
If the web has made me smarter, I’ll gladly take some of the credit. Otherwise, you can blame Google.