So a while ago I read an article on Gizmodo (I frequent it daily) about whether the internet makes you smarter, or stupider. After continued observations through my trek on the interwebs, I am still on the fence. I feel like the population, overall, is getting stupider. But there are those who are using the internet in a way to promote brain activity, rather than mollify it. Let me first address the article and arguments on whether it makes us smarter.
I think Clay Shirky makes some very valid points. I think the most outstanding argument he makes is that with any new form of media, there are going to be diamonds and there are going to be chunks of coal. For every scholarly article on string theory, we’re going to have 20 videos on youtube of people getting hit in the nuts. I don’t necessarily disagree with the fact that the internet CAN make us smarter, but that people will use it to do so. His great examples of Wikipedia and Open Source software cite innovations in the use of the web, but I feel like the general populace doesn’t even know about open source software. And the rest use Wikipedia to look up less than academic information.
I primarily agree with Carr’s sentiments that involve the high number of distractions available to us through the tubes. Even as I write this blog post, I’m distracting you with links to other places, relevant though they may be. I don’t necessary enjoy his quotes from nobel prize-winning neuroscientists. But I do agree that distractions and heavy multi-tasking, no matter how adept at them you are, are eroding our ability to do single tasks efficiently. Though I do hope that human evolution eventually allows multi-tasking efficiency, I don’t think watching 3 youtube videos about dogs running into walls while they sleep is necessarily productive. He makes lots of good points and provides tests and case studies to back up his claims, while Shirky merely recites sociological trends and historical precedent.
I think that if anything, the internet has inspired if not required more people to read. Whether it’s blog posts, scientific articles, articles on people’s favorite books/video games/sports teams, or news. While I agree that the constant multi-tasking or distractions may impact our comprehension and retention of new information I think that it can be trained and better honed. Overall, just from observation I think that the internet is making people stupider. I watch as a majority of people while their time away on facebook, or watching mindless videos on youtube. Far less frequently do I see people reading scientific articles, classic literature, or watching TED talks to educate or inspire themselves. I think if anything there are those who will benefit from the internet and the many more who will veg in front of their monitors, possibly widening an intellectual gap. I think that might cause a social caste system of sorts in the distant future.
What do you think? Leave a comment!
One thought on “The Internet – Brain Food or Brain Slug?”
I think this photo accurately depicts 99% of internet users: http://www.odditycentral.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/brain-slug-cupcakes2.jpg
The wealth of information and reading material available to us, serves as food to our brains, while the numerous distractions and “junk” (like JUNK FOOD OMG) slowly suck away our neural pathways. Everybody loses, but the information gained is worth it to some. I think of it as sending two people back in time. One is an idiot, who is going to parade around doing stupid things, possibly steal treasure, exploit his knowledge, ride dinosaurs etc. The other enjoys himself, but extracts DNA from the Dino he is riding, attempts to speak with great minds and common folk, and brings back some endangered species and written plans for corn fueled automobiles he managed to snatch before the government desecrated them. When they both return to the present, they have missed out on many current going-ons, and have suffered physical trauma that will have lasting effects. The dummy doesn’t have much to show for his venture, except maybe some gold and cool stories, but the smarter of the two has brought back information he could possibly use to better society, as well as himself.
As far as I go, when people tell me I’d be better off running around outside, I have to disagree. I spent a LOT of time outdoors as a child, and am not going to come upon a species of plant or animal I have not yet seen, caught, or tried to eat. (While in Michigan at least) I understand fresh air and sunshine are healthy, but if I weren’t sitting here, how would I learn about the new species that *are* being discovered?
I really don’t think the principle is all too different from any other form of entertainment in times past. One caveman bangs a rock on a log all day, the other crafts a spear and catches a fish. One kid uses a magnifying glass to burn ants, the other uses it and realizes ants have 3 body segments and six legs. One girl reads a novel, the other reads a teenie-bopper magazine. I don’t really think /the internet/ has much to do with adjusting levels of intelligence, as opposed to creating a space for people of all levels to interact, share, troll, and ignore each other. Smart people will better themselves with information/tools available, and stupid people will keep on doin’ their thing. It’s the way it always has been, and probably the way it always will be.
So there’s your comment, and no, I didn’t read the linked articles; if I basically said what any of them said, I apologize.