I’m convinced that there is a condition, that should be in upcoming DSM 😉, of environmentally induced cognitive diminishment. I’m calling it “the Googles” and I believe I suffer from said Googles. I’ve been thinking about this condition since reading Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making us Stupid” (my blog bit about it here). Carr has witnessed several diminishments: Shortened attention spans, decreased ability to focus on complex ideas, and the near impossibility of thinking deeply about something. He attributes it to Google because their commercial model, which is central to so much of our knowledge seeking, encourages short-attention span and quantity of items viewed over quality of the viewing.
On first reading the article, I immediately saw myself and my friends in those symptoms — trouble reading novels, never reading an article to completion, rarely stopping to re-read a passage, and a rushed, frenetic sense that I need to quickly skim the next thing lest I miss something. Carr has an upcoming book that describes the situation as being chronically stuck in “the shallows”. But I think it actually goes deeper. I think the symptoms above have related symptoms and speak to a deeper condition:
– inability to formulate original thoughts within various pockets of my industry of internet marketing (and its sub-disciplines of design, UX, and strategy), it feels like our conversations are increasingly about analogies and metaphors and case studies. “Let’s do it like Apple”, “this is how Google rolls”, “we need to do for x category what this company did in y”, “let’s adopt this model”. These threads lack originality on two levels. First, it’s all by reference to something else. There’s no blank slate, there are no truly fresh looks (you may bring in fresh eyes, but that voice is usually just reacting and spouting first thoughts, not helping to go deeper than where you started). Second, it multiplies the shallowing effect Carr talks about. What does anyone mean when they reference Apple or Google? Do we really have a deep, shared understanding of what we’re agreeing to? Do we understand what it means in terms of day-to-day work?
– inability to have deep conversations or true information exchanges having the Googles means that my talking style has started to resemble the research/information gathering style above The person suffering from ‘the Googles’ has conversations full of quick hits across a wide range of topics and entries. Like a stone skipping across a lake, they never go deep. Googles-infected conversations tend to be the exchange of memes or the matching of related links. A colleague utters a word or phrase embedded in a sentence with deeper thought. But I latch onto that word and immediately my brain bubbles up search results of related links. Then, without connecting the dots or evaluating the context, I blurt out my top-ranked meme. My counterpart is just as likely to latch onto my keywords and do the same. We leave these conversations with a half-shared understanding of what we’re doing and lack the energy or will to push deep. Dialog is replaced by a semi-grounded free association of memes, references, and synaptic firings sparked by keywords in the sentences spoken.
So these are my symptoms, deficits, diminishments:
– shortened attention span
– reduced focus
– inability to follow complex texts
– difficulty staying in a deep conversation
– diving below the memes and hyperlinking in my brain into original thoughts
I call the cluster of symptoms ‘the Googles’ and I am starting treatment (next post . . . )