Combating the “Google Takeover”

The internet is humankind’s third technological revolution in language—with writing and the printing press preceding it. Critics of this modern technology have come out of the woodwork, and in a cruel twist of fate we read their essays via the internet and computer screens. Is the internet good or bad for humanity? Well with most inventions, it isn’t such a simple dichotomy. Nicholas Carr’s 2009 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” leans toward the bad. For me, the internet is a terrific technology, but in order to save our humanity we need to relearn the (almost) lost art of focusing.

I think what Carr is concerned about has to do with what Sam Anderson talks about in his article “Defense of Distraction.” Our attention is impoverished, and we are constantly distracted by our eight browser tabs and brief online articles (Anderson 192). But Anderson offers some ways to counteract Google’s ability to dehumanize us; he references “executive function,” or “attentional self-control” (Anderson 193). This refers to one’s ability to zero-in on a particular task and block out aspects of the environment around us (193). Another way to combat the “Google Takeover” is to meditate (194). While life-hacking and neuroenhancers are also mentioned as ways to focus our attention, I think the aforementioned are some of our best weapons against flattening our intelligence into an artificial one, which Carr is so fearful of.

Executive function forces us to decide what is important: the music, the homework assignment, or the newest Reddit post? I like this method of focusing because we can turn the distractions into rewards for finishing a particular assignment or reading. In a world of instant gratification, it can be hard to justify concentrating on one thing. But if you force yourself to focus on a homework assignment until it is done, then you can a) probably get it done faster and b) enjoy an episode of your favorite TV show guilt- and distraction-free.

I also like the idea of “secular meditation” because it is a different kind of work-out; it is a mental work-out (194). The brain needs to stay just as exercised as your arms, legs, and stomach, otherwise things atrophy and become useless. Silence is incredible sometimes, because in that silence we can get a short story idea, or solve that difficult math equation, or remember the first date we had with our partner. And even if internal thoughts are absent during that silence, then at least you aren’t stressed about all the emails, Facebook updates, and world events going on around you.

After reading Anderson and Carr’s articles, I have made an effort to read AP articles from start-to-finish; to put the phone down when I am watching TV; and to let my thoughts wander as I go out jogging. Results may vary, but I feel like I am accomplishing a lot more while the people around me struggle to be split ten ways.

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4 Responses to Combating the “Google Takeover”

  1. jill4purdue says:

    I can definitely identify with the kind of distraction that Anderson talks about in his article. I often find it extremely hard to focus on only one task at a time. In fact, I’ve noticed that I actually make a physical habit of switching through browsers. My brain is so accustomed to checking a new screen that when I am writing a paper, I often find myself stopped every minute or so and moving my mouse towards my Google Chrome icon out of sheer habitual reflex. I have to consciously stop myself from opening up a web page, and I have to make a very strong effort to keep only one page up at a time.

    However, while I am shocked and a bit worried about how much I flip through articles, how many tabs I have open online, and my apparently inability to focus on one thing for long stretches when I am on my computer, I haven’t noticed these distracted tendencies spilling over into my real life. I can still sit down and have a conversation with a friend for an hour without checking my phone. I can sit in a meeting with a pad of paper and a pencil and be able to focus. I often don’t find it difficult to focus through a 50 minute class period. I don’t have the overwhelming need to be tapping my foot, knitting, and talking on the phone while I am eating my breakfast.

    What I am getting at, and what really interests me, is the idea that our distraction online is simply habit. We get used to flipping through information because we can, and our brain begins to form habits around these new possibilities, like the example of how I tend to cycle through pages every 30 seconds just because that is what my brain is used to. What if the particular kind of distraction that Anderson is focused on really is just limited to the media of the computer? Perhaps this kind of distraction is not the result of decaying minds, but just the organic offspring of what all minds do from time to time: wander and explore.I don’t flip through tabs when I have a pen and pencil, but I may doodle. I don’t doodle on a computer; I flip through tabs. Since my “attention difficulties” on the computer don’t seem to be spilling into the rest of my life, I wonder whether these quirks are really symptoms of a deeper, far-reaching focus problem, or merely the strange quirk that my mind has taken when faced with new technology.

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  2. emmabee94 says:

    I can completely relate to the struggle of having to focus on something important (job application, lab report, even a conversation) when there are all of the distractions of the internet around. Unlike some of the authors you mentioned in the blog post, I do not believe Google should be looked down upon for providing all of the search capabilities or possibilities. Your proposal of rewarding yourself with a “distraction” after finishing an assignment is great in theory, but a little difficult to execute in reality.
    I suggest that instead of trying to eliminate our distractions all together and use all of our attention span for one task at a time, we train our brains and our culture to learn how to get things done with multiple things going on at once. With the growth of the technological era, the amount of distractions are not going to slow down. While it is a nice idea to take a break for multitasking (and a great idea to take a break from it once in a while) I believe there is no way to avoid the crazy amount of information that we are bombarded with every day. Because of this, we must learn to embrace the new challenges that come with the access to so much information.

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  3. emmabee94 says:

    Emma Buegeleisen

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