Tech Thursday: Is the Internet Good for Intelligence?

I know this debate has been probably been kicked around for a decade, but I'm bringing it up this week for 2 reasons:
  1. I've read about it in 2 completely different forums this week: the Sports Guy's idiot guide to the Mutant Russian Mark Cuban (MRMC) and an interesting 2-article 'debate' from the Wall Street Journal (Dumber here and Smarter here)
  2. I think that as we approach our 1-year anniversary here at FIWK, it's an apt debate since we are now a part of the debate. Does FIWK make you smarter or dumber?

Image via WSJ.

I'm a people-optimist, so I fully disagree with:
  • the MRMC ("We have too much information and it's really impossible to filter it.")
  • the Sports Guy (" have to sift through loads of bad writing and irrelevant information to find the occasional entertaining/funny/interesting thing, and even then, it's not something that's making or breaking your week.")
  • and Nicholas Carr ("...the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers").
 I believe Clay Shirky when he says "Increased freedom to create means increased freedom to create throwaway material, as well as freedom to indulge in the experimentation that eventually makes the good new stuff possible." To me, the "pessimists" above say they don't believe humans capable of coping with the sheer volume of the internet, yet fail to acknowledge 2 key facts Shirky notes:
  1. Every increase in freedom to create or consume media...alarms people accustomed to the restrictions of the old system, convincing them that the new media will make young people stupid. This fear dates back to at least the invention of movable type.
  2. The case for digitally-driven stupidity assumes we'll fail to integrate digital freedoms into society as well as we integrated literacy.
 To me, there's no way the internet makes us dumber. Sure - it produces a TON more dumb material than anything we've seen before (but hey - so did the printing press!). However, it also produces a TON more intelligent material than anything we've seen before (but hey - so did the printing press!). I can't envision any invention to ever [heck, even the boob tube gave us Sesame Street! (Note to readers: a "boob tube" image search will result in pron)] produce a dumber society.

So, here's my request to the "elitists" out there: get off your high horse and acknowledge that we can product highly-intelligent and useful information while also allowing us to indulge ourselves in the less-hoighty-toighly material.

1 comment:

  1. The Internet is definitely making humanity smarter. While Nicholas Carr (of the Dumber article) makes a few very important points about how the internet affects brain development, he develops the wrong conclusion. Just because brains are being “massively remodeled” by widespread internet use does not mean society is moving backwards. In fact, this seems to be more of a sign that humanity is evolving. I acknowledge that there will probably be fewer philosophers in the future. Fewer people taking the time to meditate as they develop and work through different thought experiments. However, we are probably going to see more economists, physicists and social scientists. You will have more people better understand the interconnectedness of the world.

    Penelope Trunk argued that the Internet has created a generation of great writers and I completely agree. We no longer have to choose the writers that editors choose for us. We can choose the best writers regardless of credentials.

    The future will not have any great thinkers. The future will be full of people who use their brains to get things done.