As Nicholas Carr believes, we’re simply decoding information as we scan text on the web. For probably many of us like him, deep reading of densely formulated text has become a struggle. But here’s another worry that Carr ponders: the web’s simplification of information decoding has ultimately reduced our ability to think deeply as well. Our brains are so used to reading short blog posts or text messages under 140 characters that we’ve no longer the time nor patience to thoughtfully carry out our thoughts cogently. As Carr puts it:
Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.
However, we’ve been paralyzed with fear about technological advancements since the earliest days of thought: Plato feared that writing would cause our memorization capacities to fade; Gutenberg’s press would lead to intellectual laziness; and thinking changed as Nietzsche’s words morphed from rhetoric to telegram style.
On other extreme end is futurist Jamais Cascio, who argues that “Google isn’t the problem; it’s the beginning of a solution.” Indeed, with intelligence augmentation, new technologies would be able to “filter” what we are interested in; and seamlessly tailor our information absorption according to our needs. This opposite end of the spectrum argues that civilization requires diversity and innovation – and technology is a means to that end. Information professionals must be aware of this dichotomy: when much information is too much information? As Herbert Simon once said, "wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." How can we scan when we must interpret and decode?