Jacob Vander Griend
November 1, 2014
An Analysis of Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid”
In the last 30 years, a wave of technological innovation has swept over the Earth, blanketing our cultures with Cell Phones, Microwaves, and the peculiar creation labeled simply, “The Internet”. Emerging to the public in the 1990’s, the Internet is a vast collection of databases stored all around the world, allowing anyone with a computer and access to the internet to view virtually anything you might want to learn about. However, even in its early age, the Internet displayed curious properties, as popular tech-cartoonist Scott Adams states,” In 1993, there were only a handful of Web sites you could access, such as the Smithsonian’s exhibit of gems. These pages were slow to load and crashed as often as they worked. But something interesting happened every time we demonstrated this technology. The customers would get out of their chairs, their eyes like saucers…There was something about the internet that was like catnip.”(Adams, 1054) Today the internet has ballooned into a juggernaut of political activism, commercial business, and in some cases, controversy. In his 2008 article entitled,” Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, writer Nicholas Carr taps into the undercurrent of a current global debate regarding beliefs that the Internet has begun to change our world in more ways, than simply opening more information to the general public. As Carr asserts, the Internet has begun to negatively effect our very way of thinking, from distractions in online articles, to creating negative effects upon user’s concentration. In this paper, I will analyze the rhetorical strategies employed by Carr to promote his main argument, to argue that Carr creates a very persuasive point even if his views may be considered a minority opinion.
One of the most important tools Carr utilizes in his article is the rhetorical strategy of Prolepsis, a rhetorical tactic of addressing possible arguments against his position in advance. From the very start of his article, Carr finds himself in a hard position arguing against the internet’s benefits, as 90% of the public polled by Pew research found,” the Internet has been a good thing for them personally.”(NBC, 2014) If Carr is to provide a strong argument, he must attempt to address any counter-claim his audience might find with any of his views. While this is not possible for every point he makes, Carr makes a strong effort throughout his article to add a section of Prolepsis to his statements. As an example, in a short section regarding an emerging trend of “skimming” rather than fully reading an article on the internet, Carr provides the following assertion:
Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the internet, not to mention the popularity of text messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970’s or 1980’s…But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking-perhaps even a new sense of self (Carr, 3)
By utilizing Prolepsis here, Carr is attempting to prevent his argument from being countered by the referenced facts regarding the wide volume of text read on the internet. Failing to address these benefits to the internet would open Carr immediately to criticism from other writers, such as Clive Thompson, a writer mentioned early in Carr’s text who wrote his own book detailing the benefits of the internet. While Carr does provide many good examples of Prolepsis, this is not to say that Carr creates an absolute defense, as even in the quote above, he fails to mention other aspects of the internet’s effects such as the internet’s effect on writing, something Thompson goes into great detail over, leaving a weakness open in his argument. Additionally, Carr could use more evidence for some of his uses of Prolepsis, as even in his section rebutting a very short section from Thompson, “Thompson has written,”[The Internet] can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price”(Carr, 2), he relies on a personal view, rather than evidence. However, despite the deficiencies of parts of his defense, Prolepsis is key to Carr’s main argument, in that if he cannot defend the weak parts of his article and at the same time force his audience to face the possibility of side effects in the commonly believed “benefits” of the internet. His whole argument will fall apart under the scrutiny of a group that most likely does not want to find something as key to their lives as the Internet, as a possible source of problems.
Following the importance of a strong defense for his outspoken ideas, a key strategy Carr uses to develop his argument comes through the traditional method of Logos, a rhetorical strategy focusing on a strong logical appeal to an audience. While Carr may start his article with a short emotional appeal from a section of 2001:A Space Odyssey where HAL 9000 cries out mimicking Carr’s own feelings on the internet’s effect on his mind, “Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” (Carr, 1) He wastes no time in diving into a collection of facts, studies, and historical examples to prove that each new technology changes the way we think. Perhaps the best example of this comes from Carr’s referencing of Nietzsche and his typewriter, as Carr states:
Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter-a Malling Hansen Ball to be precise…But the Machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic…”You are right”, Nietzsche replied,” Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”. (Carr, 3)
This example of Nietzsche serves as a historical reminder of the effect technology can have on the way we think, exemplified by Nietzsche himself in his ending statement,” Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.(Carr, 3) This short statement lends support to Carr’s claim that the internet can change the way we think, a very strong benefit to Carr’s argument. While the veracity of the truth of Nietzsche’s own personal experiences could be disputed as individual results, the use of an authority figure does serve to reinforce Carr’s point. Overall, Carr’s use of Logos serves the purpose of utilizing as much data, and the sheer weight of past examples to prove to his readers that there is evidence for a shift in the way we think due to changing technology, and as an extrapolation, the internet follows the same lines. By relying on a large trend of logos focused examples, Carr creates the keystone of his argument in a swathe of concrete details serving to anchor the rest of his claims to real life examples, giving stronger credence to his own personal views.
In the course of making the claim that the Internet is not as beneficial as traditional methods of reading, and absorbing information, Carr carefully selects the definitions for critical terms in his article. Doing this allows Carr the ability to change the meaning of common terms like reading, and algorithms in his view of the internet. As an example of this, Carr’s statement,” The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the authors words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds… Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from Deep thinking.”(Carr, 7) Carr clearly is establishing a difference between the reading done online, and the traditional printed page. By defining these two as separate actions, Carr is able to relegate the internet’s version of reading as substandard to the traditional method. This in turn, allows Carr to assert to his audience that the terms they are comfortable with, like reading, are not universally applicable. Additionally, Carr redefines terms like “algorithms”, and “processes”, to hold a more negative connotation to connect Google’s plans to, “systematize everything”(Carr,5) back to the slavish work conditions of the Industrial age pioneered by A. Winslow Taylor, one of the founders of Factory systemization. (Carr, 5) Carr’s argument benefits from this in that he is able to redefine one of the Internets highest regarded institutions as, “something making its users, “into little more than Automatons”, (Carr, 5) A point that ties in well with his overall argument that the internet is harming our critical thinking faculties, and ruining our traditional abilities to process information.
The end result of Carr’s strategies and evidence should produce a favorable opinion in the minds of his audience, yet while I found his strategies persuasive, I also found his article somewhat weak. Throughout Carr’s article, it seemed as his evidence is relatively outdated, a small list of the years provided: 1882, 1976, 1936 (Carr, 3-6). None of these examples happened anywhere near the creation of the internet, and while Carr may invoke the name of a prominent scientist like Alan Turing, he is at a loss for substantial modern evidence for his claims. It is this lack of evidence that I found as the weakest part of Carr’s argument, otherwise, he delivers his claims carefully, and strongly with support from a number of rhetorical strategies. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I have learned from Carr’s article would be the importance of anticipating arguments against your claims. Carr makes a strong showing of this throughout his article, and to me, this makes the difference for his in places, weak, claims. Without his uses of Prolepsis, the official name for this strategy, even his introductory anecdotes would have faltered early due to their personal nature. Lastly, Carr also shows as an example of an opinion that is in a very minute minority, yet through the exemplary use of rhetorical tactics, still manages to hold a persuasive point, in that, Carr is a success in his argument.
Adams, Scott. “The Modern Era: 2001-2008.” Introduction. Dilbert 2.0 20 Years of Dilbert. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Pub., 2012. 1054. Print.
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 01 July 2008. Web. 08 Nov. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/>.
Wagstaff, Keith. “Poll: 90 Percent of Americans Think Internet Is Good For Them – NBC News.” NBC News. Pew Research, 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 09 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/poll-90-percent-americans-think-internet-good-them-n40111>.
By jakevandergriendin Uncategorized on .
Rhetorical Analysis of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
In this article, Nicholas Carr attempts to explain how the way information is presented on the Internet has changed our way of thinking. He uses many different methods to do this, playing on the audience’s emotions as he uses anecdotes, research, and his own observations to try and convince the audience that the Internet has been detrimental to our thinking and learning processes. For the most part I believe his argument is ineffective because of his organization, his choice of sources, and his tone.
Carr starts the article with a quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He explains the quote, talking about how the human is rewiring the computer, but then he parallels that with how computers have rewired his brain. I didn’t know who Nicholas Carr was, so I researched him. He is a highly respected author who has written for the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It appears that he relies heavily on his fame to convince readers of his point of view, because he uses his opinion quite often. Admittedly, he is something of an expert on the subject, but if the reader, like I, doesn’t know who he is, then a lot of this article is not effective.
After stating his opinion, he then proceeds to talk about how his friends have echoed his sentiments, saying that they can’t read whole books anymore. Honestly, if his authority isn’t established, this is not a convincing argument either. Anyone can quote their friends, but the friends of a well known author are probably more reliable than the friends of a high school student. He says that they are blog writers, which doesn’t establish authority either, because anyone can start a blog. His claim that the Internet changes our way of thinking by changing our expectations on what we read falls a little flat without his or the authority of his friends being made known.
Carr, recognizing that these are just “anecdotes” as he calls them, uses another tool: research from established sources. He cites a study, done by researchers at the University College London, in which the way users of research sites were observed to only skim the pages and move from one topic to the next, never coming back. This was a study well done by a well known university, and thus a good source to cite. He only states what was learned in the study and fails to make a claim, thus missing the chance to connect such a strong source to his argument. He also quotes a developmental psychologist, Maryanne Wolfe, who explains that reading isn’t an instinctive skill, so our brains will take in information the way we tell them to. This time he states that the internet is changing our way of reading, but does not say if he considers this good or bad. The third source he quotes is Friedrich Nietzsche, saying that in 1882 he bought a typewriter and said it changed his writing style. Although it comes from a person with authority, it is an anecdote from more than 100 years ago and it is Nietzsche’s opinion. It is not on the same level as the other sources he uses.
He then observes that other forms of media have changed in recent years, saying that magazines and newspapers have added “capsule summaries” and “info snippets.” (Carr 92) His claim is that these other forms of media have to conform to the style of the Internet, because that is the way people take in information now. He quotes the design director of The New York Times saying that they decided to make the second and third pages of the paper summaries of articles in order to make it more appealing to “info snippet” lovers. Although it may be correlated, the editor doesn’t say that it is, so it is only Carr’s observation. The reader may have observed the same thing happening with The New York Times, but many people don’t read the paper anymore, or haven’t ever read The New York Times or the newspaper in general. It is an argument that works with few people. He makes a claim on why he thinks this is changing but once again doesn’t say if he believes that’s a good or a bad thing, so at this point the reader is still unsure on his position
If this article were better organized it might be more convincing. Many of the claims Carr makes aren’t connected back to his argument. He hints at his opinion but doesn’t state it until the end. If his purpose is to make the audience think, this is very effective; it is not if his purpose is to convince the audience that the internet is changing our thinking and learning processes in a negative way. Towards the end of the article it becomes clear that he wants readers to believe that it is not a good thing. Unfortunately if what he believes about today’s readers is true then most will stop reading before he gets to his opinion. In an opinion paper like his, if he wants to create interest, he should state his opinion or at least something a little more inflammatory than what seem like pretty neutral sources.
Finally, Carr appeals to the audience’s emotions. He sets it up by talking about how Google’s mission is to create “the perfect search engine” which is something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” He says that this means we can get more access to information and thus become more efficient thinkers, which most would think was a good thing. The diction in this paragraph is all positive and with that statement, I was thinking that these were positive things. He begins the next paragraph saying “where does it all end?” which is a dramatic turn from the last paragraph. I started to notice that his quotes may not have been just to explain what the founders of Google believed, but rather to show that he didn’t believe the same thing. The way he presented their ideas seemed almost mocking, like he didn’t want people thinking he would ever believe the things they do. Then in the last few paragraphs he uses words and phrases like “pancake people” and “haunting” to create imagery in the reader’s mind of the havoc that the Internet must be wreaking on our minds. Carr goes back to 2001 and says that he’s “haunted” by it, because the computer seems to feel so much and the humans seem to feel so little in the movie. Just before that he says that he doesn’t think that artificial intelligence can ever replace human intelligence because computers can only retrieve information and calculate things based on what a human puts into it. To me, emotions seems to be a more complex idea than just thinking, or at least on the same level as the way we understand and process information. He saves this argument for last because he wants to make the audience feel fear. It almost sounds like the computer is going to control us one day, instead of us controlling the computers. Although the effort to connect to pop culture is a good idea, it doesn’t seem to relate well enough to his argument to make it worth it.
Overall, Nicholas Carr’s argument that the Internet has changed our way of thinking and made it so we can no longer think deeply is effective for an audience who is skeptical like he is. He uses tools that are aimed at an audience that is willing to believe him, probably an older audience that knew how the world was before the Internet was so common. Since he relies so heavily on his authority and on examples that make sense to someone who has lived them and seen them, it is hard for someone like me- who doesn’t understand how homework and research was done before the Internet was invented- to understand. This article was a little confusing and his arguments could have been stronger and better presented.