Changing How We Think

Last week, one of the Originalists in our group shared a Web site she found of interest called Think Again at In the Blog section, there was a question that piqued my interest – “Is Google Making Us Stupid”? The site was developed by The Atlantic Magazine and the writing is fantastic. This particular article fired off several more questions in my head.

The article is written by Nicholas Carr and can be found directly at , but go to the Think Again Web site first – the experience is worth the extra click. Carr’s article proffers up the thesis that Google’s mass adoption has dulled our intellectual senses and that we have lost the ability to concentrate deeply and quietly, such that the quiet places in our mind are now being filled with content and not brilliant ideas. As part of a group that makes its mark on developing original ideas, I was really interested in this idea.

With so much going around us all the time, has our culture as a whole lost its ability to think deeply? To read a book, to dig into a complex problem and toil over it? I admit that I find myself often thinking in sound bites, skimming articles, grabbing tidbits of information from multiple Web sites and really just operating as a high-speed data processor versus a thinker. It is easy to observe the impact of technology on my children. It is not uncommon to walk into their rooms to find them with laptop open, the TV on and earbuds in their ear. When I complain, they respond that they can’t think when it’s quiet and that they need the stimulus to perform better.

Carr compares Google’s rise to other significant technological advancements that led to the same question. Socrates for example bemoaned the advancement of writing and the Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds, so this is not the first time in history that advances in technology have caused concern over the way that we “think.”

Other factors play into this idea. For one, I think life today is much more time compressed than ever before. I don’t know anyone these days that has time left over from working and raising a family to actually ponder much at all. I think this is why Twitter has become such a huge success. It would be impossible to follow hundreds of people by reading their long winded blogs. However, by limiting the blog to 140 characters, it makes it possible to follow hundreds of people without feeling overwhelmed. We have become a society that thinks and engages others in sound bites. Texting is another example. We have even come up with a new shorthand language to make typing easier such as LOL, 2night, 411, BRB and IDK.

Most importantly for me, I think that Carr’s hypothesis can be extended to advertising and marketing. People simply do not interact with advertising the way they used to, mainly due to the proliferation of technology. It used to be that a company could reach 80% of the U.S. population using radio and TV. Today that is impossible. People rely more on user-generated content and reviews than they do the national news. Impressions are up, but impact and results are down. Engaging consumers is increasingly difficult and one of the reasons is that Google has not made us stupid, but much more efficient. Today, I don’t need advertising alone to engage a consumer. We live in a world where a user-generated review of a product is 30 times more credible than a banner ad. Consumers are much more interested in products and services that other people are talking about versus what is being advertised to them. Joseph Jaffe really embraced the power of this concept in his best seller Join the Conversation.

From a marketing perspective I would offer a spin on Mr. Carr’s question – Is Google Making Us Stupid?- Does the rise of Google require us to all think differently to be effective? I say yes. Guerilla and non-traditional ideas are no longer a novelty, but are actually the foundation of any effective marketing plan. While the proliferation of technology makes it harder to reach a consumer effectively, it has never been more fun and never before have there been so many innovative and fun ways to reach them. We need to think the way consumers behave and instead of shouting at them, we have to figure out ways to become ingrained in their behavioral patterns so that they engage with our message.

Is Google Making Us Stupid? No. But it is drastically changing how we research, think, behave and consume information and it isn’t going away.