In The Atlantic, Nicholas Carr asks: “Is Google making us stupid?”
“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?â€ So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end ofÂ Stanley Kubrickâ€™sÂ 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial brain. â€œDave, my mind is going,â€ HAL says, forlornly. â€œI can feel it. I can feel it.â€
“I can feel it, too. Over the past few years Iâ€™ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isnâ€™t goingâ€”so far as I can tellâ€”but itâ€™s changing. Iâ€™m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when Iâ€™m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and Iâ€™d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. Thatâ€™s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if Iâ€™m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
Carr recounts how, when Nietzsche started using a typewriter, his prose became tighter and more “telegraphic”. Nietzsche said, “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”
I know this to be true. The stuff I write with pen and paper sounds different from the stuff I type directly onto a computer. You literally feel moreâ€”the texture of the paper, the way the ink flows onto the paper, the bump on your middle finger where you rest your penâ€”and it soaks into what you’re writing. This isn’t romantic hooey, I’ve been on a 1,000 words a day regimen for over a decade and have empirical data.Â Also, I don’t really think when I’m typing, it’s like being on automatic pilot. What works for me is composing a story in my notebook, longhand, and then typing it onto my computer, editing (usually tightening the sentences and removing some of the digressions) in the process.
Page written by Honore de Balzac, who kept a lot of cats, drank a lot of coffee, and cranked out about a novel a week.