Friday, June 11, 2010

Does the Internet Make People Dumber or Smarter?

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?

21 comments:

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Love the picture. Dumber or smarter, whatever, it is certainly a time waster....... Diane

Debbie Cook said...

Neither. But I do think we are more quickly informed. What one does with that info is more telling as to whether one is dumber or smarter without it. ;-)

Have a good weekend!

Channon said...

I think we are what we are... Some use the internet to distract them and hop around like crazy people, others use it for instant gratification answers... Like most things in life, it is what you make of it.

gaylen said...

I have to agree with Debbie - neither really. I tend to read an article and the go back and click links.

Now my cell phone? Definately making me dumber. I don't know telephone numbers that I used to know - just no need to remember them. Which is a problem when the battery dies and I have to walk the 2 miles home in the rain because I can't remember JB's number to borrow a phone to call him. g

gaylen said...

and you know I went and clicked on the bloodhound link after I read the entire post and commented! g

Big Dude said...

I don't know about dumber or smarter, but definitely lazier and fatter.

LaKaribane said...

Well, I think the internet made me smarter. Public librairies are not well stocked here (though some are working on that) and I was always frustrated.

I got my first used pc in 2002 as my first dial-up connection. And my life change. I could go online and research anything I thought about.

And let's not even talk about Google (before that it was Yahoo search). I love search engines.

Then blogs exploded and my happiness just grew.

Of course, you have to use common sense. I'd rather trust a Medical School or University rather than someone on a message board when it comes to health issues, for example.

buffalodick said...

Learning is up to you, not circumstances, or a teacher...what you learn, and how you learn it can be quite different than the person next to you! I'm in my 50's and continue to learn in many ways...I like to think I have taught a few things to folks- sharing knowledge is important for the future of our species!

Pam said...

Smarter. Definitely smarter. I couldn't begin to find and learn all the information that I want to from books. It's made Thor smarter, too.

Breezy Point Mom said...

Definitely dumber. And more distracted! Note this article I just read this week from the New York Times about our brains on computers (notably, the internet)" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html?th&emc=th . I'm trying to cut down, though. Honest I am!!

Pam said...

It depends on the day.

doggybloggy said...

it is information and if you know how to use information to your advantage then you will get smarter...libraries are vast resources of information and very few people use them - the internet makes learning easier in my opinion.

Lucille & Nicoletta said...

Hi Thor, Hi Marje...
What a question...
First of all I reply...
There is nothing to eat, nothing to smell... no interest to me up to now... wharf wharf!!! I pass the PC to my human... May be she finds something interesting in it... But before give my bau whoof regards to Thor if you don't mind?
Lucille the Great Dane...

Marje... your point is quite interesting...
On one side internet brought us an enormous quantity of information... Some of which unluckily is trivia. Most of it? May be.
For sure there is good and bad information. You need to carefully look at it.
But when I want to really read something... I choose books. Am I old fashioned? May be...
Take care! Nicoletta
PS: do you really have 9 kids?

Linda said...

It's made me smarter! I read more and look things up that I never could before without making a trip to the library! It's helped my cooking too, thanks to a few of you out there.

All Our Fingers in the Pie said...

I don't think anything can make us smarter or dumber. That is innate. Perhaps it makes us better informed. I love doing research and find the internet a valuable resource. I learn a lot. But I don't take anything as gospel - internet, written or oral, unless I know the source.

Mango said...

Momma says she is not smarter or dumber, just more informed. But then she complains about the internet babies who think in sound bites. Whatever.

One thing she is quite firm about is that the internets have made the school children most lazy in the brains.

Whatever. I think that she is just OLD.

Slobbers,
Mango

~~louise~~ said...

I'll have to get back to you on this. I need to think it through.

Not really Marjie, there seems to be a main water break in front of the house and there's a bunch of people standing on my front lawn.

I will be back though and thanks for the link...You know I must reply:)

Tatersmama said...

I think it depends on the person. I know people who simply skim books and never actually read them... and I know people who sit right down at the computer and throughly research things.

On the computer,I tend to read what I need to, bookmark it and then check out any links... and seldom get sidetracked.
I also do several on-line courses related to my work (things that aren't available in this town - like child and adolescent psychology, as well as Cert 4 in Disability Services)

We have more options available to us today, but that doesn't mean that people necessarily take proper advantage of those options.
So the internet has definitely helped me... and it's no time-waster, unless I allow it to be.

~~louise~~ said...

I've actually been thinking about your question throughout the day and I think what's throwing me off is the printing press analogy.

Like television, the internet has had a huge impact on what we learn and how we learn it. Yet, both are forms of escapism.

I agree with Sarah, I love doing research and find the internet a valuable resource quickly accessible. Links are the internet and although they can sometimes be distracting, they also afford us journeys we may not otherwise take. What we make of those pilgrimages is our educated choice.

Paula said...

Smarter, definitely smarter. It's expanded my world and friendships. Although it can be a time eater, it has definitely improved my life in terms of communicating with family and friends, travel planning, local and world news/events, educating my kids, purchasing goods, and general learning overall. Love it!

Sue said...

I guess a little of both. People no longer know where to go to look up information, but on the other hand we probably look up more things that we wouldn't have bothered with before.

I do love the feel of a book, love to turn the pages and get lost in a good book curled in a comfy chair.

I guess there's room for both.