Nicholas Carr was a tall, refined, sharp dressed man. He carried the aura of an intellectual about him. It emanated from his speech pattern, the way he paused to ensure that he would say exactly what we meant, and his posture, moderately aloof. Nicholas Carr seemed like the kind of person who would like to know you only as much as he had to, his presentation nearly confirming this observation. Nicholas Carr appears to be the pristine white-male product that every Ivy League hopes for. It is his privilege, however, coupled with his status as a member of the Baby Boomer generation, that diminishes the impact of the argument he is trying so desperately to make.
I wanted to believe Nicholas Carr very badly. I wanted last night’s lecture to spawn a Walden-esque purge of society inside of me. I wanted to feel the urge to shatter my phone, to grab some wood, to go to the forest, to build a house and think, but I did not feel that urge after Carr’s lecture. Instead, I was left with a few questions that have been gnawing on my mind ever since, the preeminent one: how could someone so well-educated neglect to acknowledge his own privilege and its impact on the assumptions he made for his lecture?
Nicholas Carr believes that information does not equal knowledge. Carr’s argument centers around one main point: information has no basis and no potential to become knowledge unless one knows how to use it. Carr acknowledges that increased technology has resulted in an increase of available information, but believes that our ability to discern important information from filler has decreased, and therefore, our ability to obtain knowledge is diminishing. What Carr side-steps so quickly is actually quite crucial to his argument: increased technology has resulted in an increase of available information. Sure, Carr may be right, the increase in available information may have hurt us more than helped us as a whole, but he is viewing the “imminent threat” through the lens of a mature, white male intellectual. Additionally, he holds degrees from both Dartmouth and Harvard, and has seemingly never struggled to obtain information before in the vast libraries of his past. What Carr fails to address is what is in his “privilege blindspot”: the Internet has allowed for information equity.
We find this time after time, as Carr himself admitted, that older individuals critique and caution against the new technology which will “destroy what it means to be human.” I do think that Carr is correct in his argument here, technology has divided us, not brought us closer together. However, the Internet and other new technologies have allowed a wealth of information to become available to those marginalized groups who may not have had access to it before the inception of the Digital Age. For instance, I can find Carr’s book The Shallows on the third floor of the Mulva Library. However, if I went home to my rural Wisconsin town, I would not find his book on the shelves of the public library. If I wanted to find scholarly articles about the impact of new technology on our neurochemistry and interpersonal interactions, I could find them in the Mulva Library database, but not the Wautoma Public Library database. My argument is simple: Nicholas Carr had a wealth of information available to him before the inception of the Digital Age. Furthermore, his professional career has only benefited from technology. How credible is Carr’s argument if his success hinges on the ability to use the technology he so quickly shames? Carr is not marginalized. Carr has a voice, has always had a voice, and is using it. But is he taking the information he has learned and turning it into knowledge that benefits society? Or, rather, is he taking the information he has learned and furthering outdated arguments that reinforce his position as a white male intellectual who has seemingly never had to struggle to find information in the first place?
I left Nicholas Carr’s lecture last night wondering if he used technology to write his books. I wondered how much he benefited from the vast wealth of information he had available to him. I wondered how he turned that information into knowledge. It seemed to me that there was something large he did not know, something that he completely overlooked: how technology may have improved others’ lives and made the acquisition of information more equitable. That’s something we do not normally think of-- what we have and take for granted that others have never had the opportunity to have in the first place-- and I left believing Carr had neglected to think of it, too.
Nick's response was created for submission in his current course, THRS 329: The New Testament