Is Google making us stupid, as Nicholas Carr and others have told us? I don’t think so. Instead, it is making us differently intelligent. Carr, et al are simply judging this difference, the new type of intelligence, against the old standards.
In his article The War On Flow, 2009: Why Studies About Multitasking Are Missing The Point, Steven Boyd makes the point much more eloquently:
If you use industrial era yardsticks based on personal productivity to try to figure out what is going on in our heads, here, in the web of flow, you will simply think we are defective. We’ll have to learn how to measure the larger scope — the first and second closure of our networks — and distill from our media-based interactions how we influence and support each other. Get away from counting the calories, and get into how it all tastes.
I found Boyd’s article through Jim McGee’s article Asking more relevant questions about focus and multitasking, in which Jim adds his own take on the question of multitasking:
The question is not about whether multitasking is a better way to do old forms of work; it is about what skills and techniques do we need to develop to deal with the forms of work that are now emerging. … One of the useful things to be done is to spend a more time watching the juggling (to borrow Stowe Boyd’s image) and appreciating it on its own terms instead of criticizing it for what it isn’t.
I have to admit I’m a bit old-school, and still have some work to do on my “juggling”. In some ways, I miss the old days of a “simple catch”. At the same time, I love the challenge that juggling presents and am working my way up to having ever more balls in the air.
Who knows, one day I may graduate to flaming torches or even chainsaws.
(For a great intro to juggling and how you can apply it to work and life, check out Michael Gelb’s More Balls Than Hands: Juggling Your Way to Success by Learning to Love Your Mistakes.)