Nicholas Carr writes in The Atlantic how the internet (not just Google, despite the title) is sapping our ability to read in depth long passages of text. On the intertubes we tend to skim and sample, looking for the quick win; the nugget of information that means we can stop reading. However, Carr finds this behaviour is spilling over into his non-web reading.
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
A colourful metaphor, to be certain. But was it a deliberate irony to publish all 4,100 words of this lengthy essay on the web without so much as a subheading? It’s almost as if Carr invites us to blanch at the vast slabs of text – too long; didn’t read.