Is Google Making Us Insipid?

Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid?:

Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor’s ethic is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the ‘one best method’-the perfect algorithm-to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as ‘knowledge work.’

Taylorism isn’t the right metaphor for what Carr is trying to say. The rest of his argument is that Google (and other Internet technologies) are making us scatterbrained and unable to do one thing for sustained periods of time. Yes, Taylorism and the Internet are both built around shattering things into their smallest divisible units, but there the metaphor fails. Taylorism is a process of standardization, uniformity, and repetition—the opposite of the trend Carr is describing.

Overall, it’s a weak piece. While it’s better-written and slightly more convincing than other entries in the genre of “warnings about Internet cognition,” there’s nothing in it that I haven’t seen before. He shuffles the deck into a different order, but it’s still the same old cards.

Atlantic Cover

I will say that cover design for the story is clever. The color choices in “Stoopid” are uniquely determined by the colors Google chose for “Google.” Here’s why:

  • The left “o” must be red and the right “o” yellow, both to match the “o”s in “Google.”
  • The “S” must be blue, to match the “G.” (Both are capitalized and at the start of the word.)
  • The “t” must be green, because no other color works. Blue is out because that would be two blue letters in a row; red is out for the same reason. Yellow would result in two yellow letters flanking the red “o,” which would be suboptimal.
  • The “p” must be blue, to match the “g.” (Both are immediately to the right of the “o”s and contain the only descender in the entire word.)
  • At this point, two different factors suggest that the “i-d” sequence should be green-red. First, it matches the sequence in “Google,” which ends green-red. Second,the choices thus far set up a color cycle in “Stoop”: blue-green-red-yellow, then begin again with blue. Continuing the cycle gives us green-red.
  • The color cycle is now so strong that yellow is a natural follow-on for the question mark. Note also that yellow is the lightest color, so it’s the least obtrusive one to use for the “extra” question mark that follows the end of the word.

Yes — I agree, it’s not exactly the most original or interesting idea. Kind of winced when I saw him trotting it out…

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