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Dumb and Dumber?

I notice a lot of attention in the blogosphere to this article on how the Internet (Google in particular) is turning humanity into a mass of 'thoughtless' nerds with a poor attention span and limited ability to assimiliate useful knowledge. You can read the article here -http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

The author's (Nicholas Carr) thoughts set me thinking on a few fronts. Aren't we all turning into 'comfortable automatons' secure in our digital world that seems so easy - mobile, internet, GPRS, Google search...? Everything seems to be within reach and just a click or a few tabs away. This kind of echoes what my father used to rant in my school going days - "using the calculator will turn your arithmetical abilities to dust". The question is whether we will be happier with our manual devices and reliance on our brains and wits to go through our daily lives. The current argument by Carr remind me of an essay by Isaac Asimov in the early eighties where he argued against notion of societies living in 'backwater' scenarios and away from the urban jungles. Asimov said that modern human simply cannot go back to the woods. Taking the same thought process, can humanity today move in any direction except forward in the digital 'evolution'.

Much is being made of the arrival of 'semantic' web that will enable users to intelligently interact with the web to a level of personalization never seen before. Carr's fears of human intelligence being replaced by AI would be magnified to a much greater degree in Web 2.0.

The moot point is - whether our over dependence on the Web to govern our lives is turning us to digital zombies? Are our lives flitting like a fly from one crumb to the other?

Certainly an interesting topic of debate that promises to enhance the much vaunted 'digital divide' of our world!

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Comments: (2)

Paul Penrose
Paul Penrose - Finextra - London 12 June, 2008, 10:35Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes A favoured scenario of the sci-fi genre when I was growing up was that of the human race enslaved by intelligent machines. Now, ask yourself: how much time do you spend in front of your computer screen each day? It strikes me that the scenario has already come to pass - we just haven't noticed yet.
A Finextra member
A Finextra member 12 June, 2008, 12:38Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Thought provoking Sriram,

The calculator prophecy has already come to pass for many.

As for being slaves to the machine, certainly it's happened to some of the 1.3 billion of us with web access, or IT jobs. I use the net less on a random basis these days. It's more about finding out about things, using both inanimate search engines and personal communication. It's just a matter of opinion which thing is worth finding out about. My youngest daughter just wants to know the latest music or fashion and spends the majority of her time in communication with live humans while on the net. The elder is more inclined to use it as a study aid. They obviously have it too good because they use their mobile and the net simultaneously, sometimes to someone who is also online 'with' them. So much for Skype.

I certainly like to think that the machine is serving me, but I'm probably delusional.  The other way to think of it is that ultimately it may free our brains up and let us concentrate on exploring ideas, solving problems or just everyday activities and we can fill in the gaps in our knowledge quest on the fly with the web.

As for flitting, with some people I would have thought it would have had the opposite effect by feeding their obsessions, because whatever obsession you have - the web will feed it generously.

Many of us grew up with science fiction and we've modelled the world that way, it's a question of what vision the younger amongst us share and they may see something quite different.

Web 3.0 (Web 2.0 with Trust) might give us the opportunity to collaborate further with ideas, products and knowledge and share in the benefits in some more substantial and reliable way.

The only way is forward, there is no going back.