So, you remember the days when this library was the only way to learn about the world?
That’s a quote from a heartwarming and transfixing movie called Robot & Frank that I was reminded of when I read Gregory Ulmer’s article Introduction: Electracy and Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid? In the movie, set not so far in the future, an elderly man, Frank, is a subject of amazement for a young entrepreneurial billionaire who builds virtual libraries. The young man asks Frank what it was like to read words on a page. You see, the young man is electrate, as Gregory Ulmer explains in his article, and Frank is literate. Ulmer explains that electracy is now taught, just as literacy is taught, but that they are two separate things. The young man has never read an entire book, and Frank can hardly operate the internet phone his children bought. I think that Carr would have no trouble imagining that this fictional scenario has already become reality.
We are living in a revolutionary time. The web is constantly being developed, and every day it becomes capable of mimicking and, therefore, out-dating some other tool we once used. Now, Carr says, “media supply the stuff of thought”; they decide what we think about. He cites the claims of Google’s creators. They set out to create a search engine “as smart as people—or smarter”. I can’t help but wonder: does improving intelligence outside of ourselves imply that our own intelligence is being replaced? And, if this intelligence that is constantly bombarding our daily lives is, in fact, replacing our thought, doesn’t that mean we will lose our thought? Carr has found the most alarming part of replacement to be where there is no more contemplative quiet. He writes, “If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture.”
This loss—no, this abandonment—of our selves is tragic. However, I do not believe that it is necessary. We can study, just as rigorously as we study technological advancement, human thought.