Q&A: Nicholas Carr on 'the big switch' to cloud computing

Author says cloud approach is reliable enough for many apps, but warns about vendor lock-in

Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr

On the show, and in an essay that you wrote for The Atlantic, you said that Google has made us all "stupid." But there also has been research that suggests the Internet may actually stimulate some neural activity. How do you marry those two viewpoints?

I think [the Internet] can do both things. The study you're talking about came out of a college in California [and] showed that when we use the Internet, a lot of the areas of our brains are active, including decision-making parts that aren't very active when you read. So on the one hand, as you get older and you want to exercise your brain, that seems to be a pretty good way. [The researchers] compared it to doing a crossword puzzle.

But exercising your brain is a very different thing than the quality of thinking that's going on in your brain. What I wonder about is the fact that so many areas of your brain are activated when you're online, and does that actually hinder the type of concentration and reflectiveness that occurs when you're sitting quietly reading?

Does using the Internet hinder your own ability to write for extended periods of time?

Yeah, whether I'm reading or writing. You get into these very deep habits from using the Net, where you're used to being distracted, you're used to checking your e-mail every three seconds. And to sit down and not do that becomes very, very hard.

What I find is that you have to force yourself to turn off your e-mail system and your Net connection and kind of retrain your brain or your nervous system or whatever. It takes time to get back into that ability to spend a few hours writing. I write a blog, and I notice that the act of writing a blog is very different from the act of writing a book or a long, extended article. You do have to force your brain to switch gears, and you can hear the gears kind of clanking.

There's been a lot of buzz at this conference about the need for CIOs to change the way they approach IT, especially in light of the troubled economy. What suggestions would you make?

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