Rhetorical Analysis of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
In this article, Nicholas Carr attempts to explain how the way information is presented on the Internet has changed our way of thinking. He uses many different methods to do this, playing on the audience’s emotions as he uses anecdotes, research, and his own observations to try and convince the audience that the Internet has been detrimental to our thinking and learning processes. For the most part I believe his argument is ineffective because of his organization, his choice of sources, and his tone.
Carr starts the article with a quote from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He explains the quote, talking about how the human is rewiring the computer, but then he parallels that with how computers have rewired his brain. I didn’t know who Nicholas Carr was, so I researched him. He is a highly respected author who has written for the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It appears that he relies heavily on his fame to convince readers of his point of view, because he uses his opinion quite often. Admittedly, he is something of an expert on the subject, but if the reader, like I, doesn’t know who he is, then a lot of this article is not effective.
After stating his opinion, he then proceeds to talk about how his friends have echoed his sentiments, saying that they can’t read whole books anymore. Honestly, if his authority isn’t established, this is not a convincing argument either. Anyone can quote their friends, but the friends of a well known author are probably more reliable than the friends of a high school student. He says that they are blog writers, which doesn’t establish authority either, because anyone can start a blog. His claim that the Internet changes our way of thinking by changing our expectations on what we read falls a little flat without his or the authority of his friends being made known.
Carr, recognizing that these are just “anecdotes” as he calls them, uses another tool: research from established sources. He cites a study, done by researchers at the University College London, in which the way users of research sites were observed to only skim the pages and move from one topic to the next, never coming back. This was a study well done by a well known university, and thus a good source to cite. He only states what was learned in the study and fails to make a claim, thus missing the chance to connect such a strong source to his argument. He also quotes a developmental psychologist, Maryanne Wolfe, who explains that reading isn’t an instinctive skill, so our brains will take in information the way we tell them to. This time he states that the internet is changing our way of reading, but does not say if he considers this good or bad. The third source he quotes is Friedrich Nietzsche, saying that in 1882 he bought a typewriter and said it changed his writing style. Although it comes from a person with authority, it is an anecdote from more than 100 years ago and it is Nietzsche’s opinion. It is not on the same level as the other sources he uses.
He then observes that other forms of media have changed in recent years, saying that magazines and newspapers have added “capsule summaries” and “info snippets.” (Carr 92) His claim is that these other forms of media have to conform to the style of the Internet, because that is the way people take in information now. He quotes the design director of The New York Times saying that they decided to make the second and third pages of the paper summaries of articles in order to make it more appealing to “info snippet” lovers. Although it may be correlated, the editor doesn’t say that it is, so it is only Carr’s observation. The reader may have observed the same thing happening with The New York Times, but many people don’t read the paper anymore, or haven’t ever read The New York Times or the newspaper in general. It is an argument that works with few people. He makes a claim on why he thinks this is changing but once again doesn’t say if he believes that’s a good or a bad thing, so at this point the reader is still unsure on his position
If this article were better organized it might be more convincing. Many of the claims Carr makes aren’t connected back to his argument. He hints at his opinion but doesn’t state it until the end. If his purpose is to make the audience think, this is very effective; it is not if his purpose is to convince the audience that the internet is changing our thinking and learning processes in a negative way. Towards the end of the article it becomes clear that he wants readers to believe that it is not a good thing. Unfortunately if what he believes about today’s readers is true then most will stop reading before he gets to his opinion. In an opinion paper like his, if he wants to create interest, he should state his opinion or at least something a little more inflammatory than what seem like pretty neutral sources.
Finally, Carr appeals to the audience’s emotions. He sets it up by talking about how Google’s mission is to create “the perfect search engine” which is something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” He says that this means we can get more access to information and thus become more efficient thinkers, which most would think was a good thing. The diction in this paragraph is all positive and with that statement, I was thinking that these were positive things. He begins the next paragraph saying “where does it all end?” which is a dramatic turn from the last paragraph. I started to notice that his quotes may not have been just to explain what the founders of Google believed, but rather to show that he didn’t believe the same thing. The way he presented their ideas seemed almost mocking, like he didn’t want people thinking he would ever believe the things they do. Then in the last few paragraphs he uses words and phrases like “pancake people” and “haunting” to create imagery in the reader’s mind of the havoc that the Internet must be wreaking on our minds. Carr goes back to 2001 and says that he’s “haunted” by it, because the computer seems to feel so much and the humans seem to feel so little in the movie. Just before that he says that he doesn’t think that artificial intelligence can ever replace human intelligence because computers can only retrieve information and calculate things based on what a human puts into it. To me, emotions seems to be a more complex idea than just thinking, or at least on the same level as the way we understand and process information. He saves this argument for last because he wants to make the audience feel fear. It almost sounds like the computer is going to control us one day, instead of us controlling the computers. Although the effort to connect to pop culture is a good idea, it doesn’t seem to relate well enough to his argument to make it worth it.
Overall, Nicholas Carr’s argument that the Internet has changed our way of thinking and made it so we can no longer think deeply is effective for an audience who is skeptical like he is. He uses tools that are aimed at an audience that is willing to believe him, probably an older audience that knew how the world was before the Internet was so common. Since he relies so heavily on his authority and on examples that make sense to someone who has lived them and seen them, it is hard for someone like me- who doesn’t understand how homework and research was done before the Internet was invented- to understand. This article was a little confusing and his arguments could have been stronger and better presented.