Cyberspace and the New Mind

Neil Easterbrook recently sent an email to the SFRA listserve regarding The Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, which is available here.  Neil was using this article as a prompt for his inquiry for SF works that address the neurology of reading and how the act of reading changes the way people think.  I suggested Richard Powers’ Galatea 2.2 as a possible text, because the AI, Helen, evolves over time as she learns the literary canon from the fictional “Richard Powers.”

I argree with Carr that Google and the Internet are changing the way we think.  As are cell phones and other digital necessities such as the iPod.  What I’m concern about is how something like Google can be employed to shape the way we think.  This is an idea that comes from thinking about Chomsky’s work on the self-censorship in the media, because of such effects as the increasing usage of government press releases in place of real reporting (which costs money and cuts into the bottom line).  In the case of Google, companies can sponsor links so that they appear higher in search results.  Also, as Carr’s article states, Google eventually wants to give users of its service just what they’re looking for.  Combining these two things together may not be exactly what a user is looking for, but an approximation based on the shaping of results toward capitalistic ends.  I fear the future won’t be about a Google AI supplanting our way of thinking, but rather about the buying and selling of our way of thinking.  I believe that capitalism already shapes our thinking, our consciousness, but in the Google model, where users don’t pay for services, but are given a service in exchange for the implicit agreement that advertising in some way pays for their access to Google’s services, users can’t pay to opt out of this new form of consciousness shaping.  They don’t want users to engage in the system in this way, because the system’s thought shaping serves corporate interests, including their own, which are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive with an empowered user/individual/consumer.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.