Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

TECHNOLOGY IS a two-edged sword which simultaneously multiplies our effort while changing the person who uses it.  See the article:  Is Google Making Us Stupid? 
The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. 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.
If you use mechanical transportation exclusively, your muscles grow soft, and if you use electronic information retrieval — like Google — exclusively, your brain goes soft too.

This article refers to Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), a professor of English, a convert to the Catholic Faith who read his way into the Church via G.K. Chesterton, and who taught for a while at Saint Louis University.  Now, McLuhan was quite a bit more critical of the media than supposed: his "global village", formed by ubiquitous international electronic communications, is largely negative in his view because it has the potential to facilitate totalitarianism.

Now McLuhan says that technology is morally neutral, but we should be very well aware of its dangers, like the possibility of a buzz-saw cutting off fingers.  Technology is morally neutral, so it is us who are the moral agents, and morality comes down to individual virtue.  If the Google technology is causing us, for example, to weaken our memory and attention span — both virtues —  then we are using the technology incorrectly; it is a vice. And providers of technology have a far greater moral responsibility than mere users.

Lately I've been taking Latin classes, which as the professor says, "is a cruel language".  But this difficult subject has really been exercising many of my long-disused mental muscles, which amazingly, has changed other parts of my life for the better.

Marshall McLuhan had a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and attended the Traditional Latin Mass, and no doubt saw how the medium of the liturgical reform in the 1960s influenced its message of God's graces.  McLuhans's tight coupling between medium and message should get the attention of Catholics:  we ought to be quite familiar with outward material signs (the medium) both indicating and giving something internal (the message), for it is analogous to the sacraments.  For a sacrament to be valid, both the correct outward form and matter of the sacrament must be observed, or in other words, we must use correctly the technology of the media.  However, sacraments must "be administered with the right intention and received with the right dispositions" (Baltimore Catechism), which corresponds to the right moral use of the media. While the graces of the sacraments are supernatural gifts, the messages of the communication media are likewise of spiritual nature, being ultimately intellectual.  But the messages of the media are too often not truth, goodness, and beauty, wherein lies a great danger.

Modern religion often dismisses the need of having any intermediaries between ourself and God, whether either material or other persons.  Obviously this kind of thinking led to many liturgical reforms in the past few decades. But this opinion possibly leads to a kind of blindness to the consequences of intermediaries such as the media and other technologies.  


  1. I have no worries about cerebral atrophy. My use of Google (virtually continuous while I am awake) stretches my intellect, process-wise and content-wise.

    But as for the rest of this note -- right on!

  2. you all should be using GOODSEARCH.COM!
    pick a favorite charity or set up your own....

  3. Great article! As one who has lived through these various changes done "in the Spirit of Vatican II" and longing for a true renewal according to what Vatican II REALLY said, I say "Amen" to all you said.

    As for google, I do agree w/the person that said they have learned much from using it, yet what you were saying about the care of using it and beleiveing all you read, especially from a news standpoint, is to quote "right on!"

    Christ's peace,