More Thursday Links

A little burnout today, so I’ve been surfing instead:

  • Via Matt Yglesias, a great little satire video about gay marriage by Oded Gross. I haven’t said much about the gay marriage ruling in California, but like Matt, I think it’s great that California’s gays and lesbians are finally getting the justice they deserve. His secondary point about family instability exacerbating some of our contemporary social problems is also worth thinking about. I don’t see gay marriage playing the same role that it did in 2004–there simply aren’t many states where gay marriage amendments could be use to drive up the vote–but the video nicely sends up the panic over the gay marriage issue.
  • Speaking of political satire, I belatedly came across the really fantastic blog Political Irony, which is a great resource for tracking political humor on the web, on television, and in print.
  • Chicago Tribune columnist Steven Johnson writes about Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic Monthly article asking whether Google is “making us stupid.” I’ve only skimmed Carr’s article–which more or less illustrates his point–but essentially he’s asking how search engines may be shaping research and reading habits. Carr’s argument reminds me quite a bit of Mark Bauerlein’s claims about the decline of reading in The Dumbest Generation.  Interesting–if troubling–stuff.  I’ll try to write something more substantive about both later tonight.


  1. K. G. Wilkins Said,

    June 22, 2008 @ 10:06 am

    I think that I have googled about 3,000 subjects since 2003. It does not remove my motivation to read, but it encourages me to have curiosity and satisfy it. When I have conversations at work where we are trying to recall the name of “that guy who …. ” or arguing over the best Cosby series, we turn to Google to provide us with the facts. We often find that the record does not match our recolletions–which revises our worldview.

    Google has made me much better informed on a number of subjects–which I never would have investigated at all in a traditional library setting. I am a librarian, so I have daily access to thousands of volumes of reference and other books.

    Librarians worry that Google is lowering the bar for research. There are people who think that whatever Google uncovers is the last word on the subject–they have to be educated. There are a lot of entertaining ways to show this to students and the public.

    Google also unties people from “asking librarians” to help them look for things. This is not as serious a threat as anything else threatening the future of libraries and librarians–which existed in their current form for less than 100 years. It is a technological challenge. I find that libraries were able to use MARC to bring catalogs into computers in the 1960s and then to link those computers in OCLC (a vast online card catalog of thousands of libraries worldwide).

    Now libraries are able to bring local information to the web, to make connections with patrons outside of library hours, to serve distant patrons, and with tools like podcasting, wikis, fickr, and rss to adapt tools to serving the public or their school or university.

    I think it is the proliferation of screen devices that is making us all attention-deficit. Do I read blogs or read Wikipedia or look up my friends or scan slate or watch the “Mean Kitty Song” one more time or e-mail or instant message or listen to my i-pod or download a movie–this richness of resources is overwhelming. Our choices are not necessarily wise. The explosion in pornography on the internet is undoubtedly endangering the thousands of children who fall into the hands of a pornographer who has a vast anonymous network to profit from.

    Newspapers are starting to wither even faster. Much of this is not due to Google or any other technological wonder, but from the fact that newspapers remained stodgy–run for old tastes and interests, rather than exploring societal changes and technologies.

    The newspapers had access to vast stores of information, but they couldn’t find a reason for people to look at their online resources more than once a day. The Times-Picayune benefitted in many ways from Katrina in that people looked at it for local news which was vital to recovery decisions. They still cover the thousands of aspects of “recovery”–becoming at times cheerleaders, naggers, ironists, and memoirists.

    The home and garden section became “Inside/Out” which covered people’s efforts to restore their homes and environments. It developed a column that was how people restored an individual piece damaged by the storm.

    Chris Rose, a mildly talented entertainment columnist, began to write fierce and funny stories about the storm and its aftermath–forming a shape around the destruction–making it a narrative that could be consumed in smaller bites.

    The paper ran pages of local resource information: meetings, addresses, phone numbers, government offers. This is dwindling now, but at one point, was a beacon to the community.

  2. Chuck Said,

    June 22, 2008 @ 10:01 pm

    This feels more like a free-form essay than a specific comment on Google and attention/knowledge, but I’ll try to hit the Google point. I certainly rely on Google quite a bit, and it’s easy to blame Google (or the internet in general) for whatever “literacy crisis” exists (and I think things are far more complicated than Bauerlein suggests), when in fact Google would not exist as it does if there was not a supervening social necessity that made it supremely desirable.

    Obviously there are tremendous benefits. I can look up a movie to find out the editor’s name, find out why my computer is running slowly, or whatever. But the fear, a I understand it, is that the internet is changing our understanding of what counts as knowledge or thought.

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