Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Peter King ranks among my favorite writers of all time*. His unbiased and thoughtful insights into the NFL are unparalleled and he even throws in some news about coffee and travel tips. There was a day when I enjoyed sitting down and reading every word of his MMQB articles.  Then, reality hit. I don't have time for a 5-page article. I barely have time to be the husband and father I need to be, much less do my job and other responsibilities well.  And so, I merely skim the first few paragraphs to see if the topic du jour interests me enough to read the entire first page.

I "follow" numerous blogs with my Feedly account, but I spend the bulk of my blog "reading" time skimming post titles to see if I really want to read the post. The goal is less about learning and more about getting to the end of the queue.

I could go on and on with similar examples -- the email updates that are too long to read, how easily distracted I can be when reading or working online -- and I'm sure you could too. That's why this article by Nicholas Carr resonated with me from the title.

I encourage you to click the link and read it -- the whole thing. It's kinda long, so get a cup of coffee and a snack.  He basically says that as we spend more time online we spend less time thinking about what we are absorbing. This instant connection to just about any bit of knowledge we want is causing us to be very shallow in our cognition.  I love this line. "Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

I am a computer teacher. I love technology! That's not an inherently bad thing for us.  However, I recognize I may be becoming one of those "pancake people" mentioned in the article -- with knowledge thinly over many topics.

I want something different for my students and for my daughter. I want them to know how to access knowledge with digital media, but I also want them to use that knowledge to think deeply and learn through experience -- not just flit to the next duck-faced selfie, then to fantasy football, then to... you get the idea.

I was taught  to never present a problem without offering some solutions, so here come some solutions.  This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I welcome your ideas.

  1. Be an example. Model good digital media usage. (Confession: I am typing this while subbing in an English class.  Since sitting at this desk, I have checked out Instagram, worked on my fantasy team, emailed my library, and texted a friend. Bad Mr. Dunlap.)
  2. Make this part of my curriculum. I push digital citizenship in my computer classes, but I also need to make discuss sticktoitediveness. This is not something I can push off on other teachers in other subjects, especially since my content area is causing the problem. 
  3. In conjunction with #2, assignments (at least some of them) need to focus on deeply reading content and thinking critically about it. I'm still pondering what this looks like. 
I'm no expert in this area, and I know my mind is traveling down this slippery slope.  Hopefully I can help some of these kids to scuba dive deeply into a sea of words.

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*I have to be honest. I typed that sentence and names of authors flooded my mind -- Christie, Tolkien, Clancy, Lewis, Grisham, Gladwell.  Man! There are a lot of names on the list of authors I love to read. King is up there, no doubt, but let's say he's one of my favorite to read online


  1. Finally, I read Nicholas Carr's post, and it gave me mixed feelings . First, I expected a more solid criticism of our new ways of thinking, increasingly digitized and linked to the Internet, yet I found interesting the author's position that, despite being aware of the fact that criticism like his have been done many times (against writing, against the press, and against industrial automation, but I am certain also against cooked meat and wheels, and riding horses and cycling instead of writing), and that he cannot imagine a future of extended minds, constantly online, expresses his fears and longing for that part of the world he loves so much, and feels in danger of loosing forever.

    1. Interesting perspective there. It's been months since I've read the article, so I can't speak with in depth knowledge on this anymore. However, what I took away from the article is balance. We need to teach the tech and how to use it effectively. However, we need to also need to help students expand their attention span and think deeply about what they inputting. With the seemingly unlimited amount of information coming at us and our students, it's our job to help them use that information wisely.