The Internet is a feedback loop
The Internet is not making anyone dumber or smarter against their will, it is only accentuates what they already want. Someone who was going to spend the day reading scientific journals in paper, is still going to spend their time reading those journals, online. On the flip side of the coin, someone who was going to spend all day watching stupid videos on television, will do the same on Youtube. The key difference between those old forms of media and the Internet, is that the internet will cater to each person, specifically. This leads to something akin to when a microphone is exposed to its own feedback by a speaker, which creates a screech until the two are separated, otherwise known as a feedback loop.
Let’s back up by explaining what the Internet is, in the physical world. The Internet is physically a web of nodes connected to each other. The common idea of the internet being a vast invisible cloud that isn’t located anywhere, is misleading. The Internet mostly exists through vast cabling running underground and data centers. When you connect to WiFi, you are simply connecting to the nearest router that connects to vast amount of wires, similar to a highway entrance/exit. When you’re searching for something on the internet, you are in effect driving down the highway, looking for exit signs. These cables connect to data centers, which is where most things on the internet are stored, such as Youtube Videos.
Now imagine while driving down the highway of the internet, you see exits signs that advertise to you in particular. You have a choice in the matter, you can keep going towards your destination or you could go take the exit. However, contrary to previous forms of media that only appealed to large groups of people, the previous exit sign knows that you took it and will use the information to recommend to you more destinations that it thinks you’d like. How exactly the Internet knows what you would like from your previous choices is too complicated for this post, as it involves algorithms, Machine Learning and Machine Learning algorithms. The most important thing about this process is that it is not inherently malicious, it simply wants to give you more of what you want.
The author of Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr seems to think that the internet is inherently quick selections of content that are skimmed over (Nicholas Carr). This may be because that’s how he engages the internet and it responds in kind. His implication that the Internet entirely consists of short-form content is easily disproved by the thousands of journals and newspapers hosted on the Internet. If he wanted long detailed content, the Internet would have given it to him.
Unfortunately, this practice of the Internet giving you content you want loops in on itself, leading to more extreme recommendations. This result was not impossible before the internet. People have been radicalizing themselves for centuries. What the Internet does, better than anything before, is make it hard to notice the radicalization. This is because your unique internet seems to be agreed on the radical ideas, so they doesn’t seem as radical as they would if you had to see everyone’s opinion. Therefore, the best way to not fall into the feedback loop, is to remember that the Internet does not know what would be best for you to see. It only knows what you have told it to show you.
Carr, Nicholas Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Atlantic July/August 2008 Accessed February 9th 2021 https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/