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!