The search engine

Carr claims that the search engine Google is to blame for the newly acquired short attention span he and some of his colleagues are experiencing while reading. Because Internet users have no need to read through large texts for information since a vast amount of information is available within 0.003 seconds, Carr professes no longer is he able to read a long passage with full and complete attention, or at least the way he used to read before. So, in a world with Google, one cannot, or at least a person who utilizes the Internet and it's search engines, fully read an article or a book, let alone take the time to think about what exactly it was that was just read, right? Quite the contrary; Google has been able to shape and reshape our minds and brains by giving us new tools and ways to pick up information as well as share it with others.

So what is it that's causing Carr to feel as though he can no longer hold a read thought for too long? In Carl Zimmer's article 'How Google is Making Us Smarter', Zimmer claims that our mind consists more than just our brain, but is actually made up of both the brain in our skull as well as the environment we are subjected to. He says that although we'd like to think that our brains record everything around us, the truth of the matter is that it only records what it needs to know, as exemplified by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris at Harvard University. They performed a test asking subjects to watch students running around each other passing a basketball and keep track how many times the ball was passed by members of one of the teams. Sometime during the game, a student in a gorilla costume walked through the court and surprisingly enough many of the subjects reported they never saw the gorilla! This shows that their brains didn't pay any mind to the gorilla as it was regarded as extraneous since it was not part of the task. Clark continues this idea by stating our brain does not recreate photocopied images of the world around us, but rather focuses on tiny snippets extracting only the information we need. (Zimmer) So, for Carr to claim Google is at fault for making his brain work in a new way where he does not seep in loads of information does not make sense - his brain is simply gathering pieces of information it deems necessary for some reason or another.

Another reason Google is not at fault for making a person lose his or her attention span is because attention spans have long been shortened and/or depleted. In the article 'Is Stupid Making Us Google?', author James Bowman expands on the idea that it is not Google's fault many people are now facing the short attention span predicament, but rather the fault of the junk culture we are in and the lack of care educational mentors now have towards their respective studies. He elaborates on his perspective by talking to Professor Mark Baurlein, an English teacher at Emory University and former director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts and author of _The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future_, who says one cannot blame the student for never having learned how to truly learn. He claims that students have "been 'betrayed' by the mentors who should have taught them better" as well as saying the very concept of intelligence has been molded into something new. (Bowman 75-80) In Bauerlein's book, he states, "the model is information retrieval, not knowledge formation, and the material passes from Web to homework paper without lodging in the minds of the students." (Bowman 75-80) So if the value of being 'intelligent' or being someone who is 'knowledged' now simply means able to regurgitate facts the way Google or Wikipedia does on a computer screen, then it is not right to blame the Internet or search engines when it is the instructors of education and those who are supposed to foster the innate pursuit of knowledge to never have forced the student to go deep in their studies and thought process rather than going shallow and wide. The truth of the matter is, this problem is not new, and, as Bowman explains, goes back at least three generations, a time before the personal computer existed let alone was used as a means for education. (Bowman 75-80) So rather than continuing to point fingers and blame one another, it only makes sense to realize and accept what has been happening to the concept of learning and becoming educated and then work from there towards molding the system into what it is needs to become - knowledge and thought, not just information and regurgitation of facts.

Along with bringing the world to our fingertips, Google has also proved to have done a world of wonder and has more than likely saved lives in the emergency room, as reported by critical care physicians in the Greater Sydney area of Australia. (Reid et al., 2009) Google groups, a site parented by Google which allows the storing of files online and distribution of information, has allowed team members - physicians, administrators, nurses, etc - in an Australian emergency room to constantly be able to communicate and share information, within seconds, that the entire team needs to know. EMTs in an ambulance can give updates to all physicians as to what is coming to them, physicians can contact nurses when they need to in regards to patients, and administrators are able to get into contact with anyone and/or everybody when they need to. The Google group platform has continued to work so well in this critical care setting, the ER team reported they expanded its use from being only for online discussion to using it for governance purposes. (Reid et al., 2009)

Search engines have actually proven to be mentally stimulating in a way in which it is thought that it might actually improve brain health. A study was done by members of UCLA's Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral around the end of 2008 to see what different regions of the brain were activated when using a search engine and which regions were activated while reading text on physical paper in order to compare the two. The doctors tested twenty-four people whom were neurologically normal but purposely selected twelve whom had minimal experience with search engines and twelve who had more experience with them. They came to find reading plain text activated brain regions controlling language, reading, memory, visual abilities, etc to more or less the same extent in both groups. However, when the groups moved on to the Internet search engine task, it was found the group with the minimal Internet experience showed activation patterns more or less like the same pattern as before, but it was the experienced Internet users that "demonstrated significant increases in signal intensity in additional regions controlling decision making, complex reasoning, and vision, including the frontal pole, etc...." (Small, M.D., Moody, Ph.D., Siddarth, Ph.D., and Bookheimer, Ph.D. 116-26) This study proves Internet searching draws a greater extent of neural circuitry that otherwise does not show up when reading text pages, but this only works for those who are already familiar and comfortable with the Internet. (Small, M.D., Moody, Ph.D., Siddarth, Ph.D., and Bookheimer, Ph.D. 116-26)

The reader can now understand why there is nothing unnatural or foreign in today's day for the brain to be comfortable in relying on the Internet for information. Search engines have shown to activate different regions of the brain in ways normal paper text reading does not, and if our brains now look to Google as it's extended mind, who's to say there's a problem with that? Rather than pointing fingers and creating issues, it would be in the greater interest of everyone to understand what Google does do to the brain and mind, and continue progressing from there towards a happy place.

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