The title of this post reflects my thoughts on Carr’s and Bowman’s articles.
In regards to this idea, I have only anecdotal evidence to offer.
People are almost incapable of not being goal-oriented. We like to set objectives and meet them. In doing so, we use whatever means available to reach the goal, given a set of parameters on our actions. In previous times, hard work on an intellectual or scholarly level required a vast knowledge of information accessibility; you had to understand physical and temporal constraints on your access to knowledge that many today have little experience with outside of academia; to look up a measurement conversion all you have to do is type it into the google search bar. Now the availability of knowledge has changed for the better.
Samuel Johnson’s famous phrase is memorialized at Dacus:
“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
Nowadays, we are keenly aware of how available information is; we’re also aware of how available useless information is; so Google has fed our need for laziness, in fact made us lazier, and has turned us into master researchers by giving us a mixed bag of most of the knowledge we’d look for, and a lot that we wouldn’t want. It’s a blessing mixed with a disaster, really: infinite informational potential, vast seas of shit.
And this mindset did not develop with Google as much as it did with digital information; once you understand that digital information can be accessed almost immediately, can be combed through for relevant sections with a hotkey, and can be collated into useful, meaningful organizations with a few mouse clicks, searching for information becomes a process of selecting the best source and finding its point.
I watched this recently and discussed it with some people at great length: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html
Studies are confirming that incremental increases in reward does not translate into incremental increases in productivity. In fact, it might even reduce productivity. Why is that?
It’s because the conception of “working harder” translating into “success” is fundamentally flawed; working smarter, more creatively, and without recourse to the notion that hard work will save you and redeem your efforts (it won’t) is a better path to success because it requires you to understand what your desired outcome is, not how much time you have to spend.
So we tweet feelings, we don’t write letters. We write paragraph stories, not novels. We get to the point because we know that’s what people want. And in doing so we make everyone’s search for what they want to know and do easier, because we’ve gotten good at atavizing our understanding into easily digested statements and concepts. I think that’s a good thing, and I think that lazy people are at the forefront of this kind of stuff, because being lazy is about doing the least amount of work required for the result, which is the essence of progress, in many ways. Bill Gates has been quoted (and perhaps incorrectly) as saying:
“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
If that’s the case, laziness becomes the essence of progress. The novel gets shorter, but the message becomes more potent and powerful.