This was a question posed in my Wall Street Journal weekend edition, which I finally got around to reading yesterday. Yes, it's been just that kind of week, where I finally get time to read my Saturday paper on Thursday.
Anyway, the WSJ presented two arguments: One for the internet making you smarter, and one for it making you dumber. The guy claiming the internet makes everyone smarter starts out by saying that in the beginning, scholars, including Martin Luther, bemoaned the invention of the printing press, saying that the ability to print more books meant that the books would be of lower quality, and humans would be less intelligent. But following the ability to give the written word to more people, better quality written words began to arrive: Shakespeare, to name one. He also points to open source programming as helping many people, and cites Wikipedia as a prime example.
(Vaguely funny Wikipedia story: A few weeks back, one of my sons called me to ask if one of his siblings had written an article for Wikipedia about our little town. I responded that I had, at the urging of some of his brothers. My son's response? "Good. If you hadn't, I'd be telling you to search the house for gypsies, because there's a fact in that article that only someone in our house could know.")
The guy claiming the internet makes people dumber argues that people are distracted by links, and therefore have a tendency to skip around the internet and not read anything thoroughly and comprehend it. Gee, would you really leave me to see bloodhounds or June's food holidays? I'm hurt, really I am. He states that a book invites contemplation and thinking about what you're reading, instead of skimming.
I tend to believe that the internet makes people dumber, by reducing attention spans among other things. I also think it's too easy to fall into the trap of believing misinformation (dogs in China are becoming tigers!) or not seeking enough information to understand something and form your own conclusion.
Just in case you might get bored, I've included random pictures to keep your interest.
So, tell me what you think: are we smarter or dumber - or simply more distracted - thanks to the internet?