Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?
Nathanael Enwald
nenwa128@uwsp.edu
I submit to you that, in fact, it does make us stupid. You’ll get no argument from me that the sheer quantity of information on the Internet is as vast, but does information being so readily available really mean anything good for our intellectual capacity?
If anything, the effect it has on our cognitive abilities is problematic. It’s BECAUSE of the immense amount of data passing through our skulls that our thought processes and attention spans have grown shallow and aphoristic. If we need an answer to a question all we have to do is Google it, answer it, and forget it.
 
Ask yourself, what did you Google last week Monday? Can you remember any specific details? How did it end? What about the last book you read? Or the book you read 5 years ago. I would bet money you remember more about the book and at least remember how it ended.
 
A growing number of researchers are starting to uncover that the oversaturation of stimulation and the constant distractions the Internet provides is causing us to become superficial thinkers.
 
Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing How we Think, said, "My interest in the subject is not just academic. It’s personal. I was inspired to write the book after I realized that I was losing my own capacity for concentration and contemplation. Even when I was away from my computer, my mind seemed hungry for constant stimulation, for quick hits of information. I felt perpetually distracted. Could my loss of focus be a result of all the time I’ve spent online? In search of an answer to that question, I began to dig into the many psychological, behavioral, and neurological studies that examine how the tools we use to think with — our information technologies — shape our habits of mind."
 
What he found was alarming; people who read text online comprehend significantly less than those who read off of printed pages. People who watch multimedia are less likely to absorb information and retell it later than people who read it. And people who multitask and juggle information are less productive and even, in some cases, are considerably less creative.
 
Is that really all that surprising though? All you can do to a book or newspaper is read it. But if you read that same article or book online you can be distracted by an ad, an email, an instant message, or a hyperlink.
 
Hyperlinks have made our lives so easy, too easy. We’ve all done it, read half way through an article, clicked on a hyperlink, got two paragraphs into that article and clicked on yet another "related article."
 
There you have it, in this process we started to read three articles and failed to actually finish any of them.
 
Our brains our de-evolving because of a lack of challenge to it, people forget that being stimulated is entirely different than being introspectively challenged.
 
Whether by design or just a side effect of an arguably organically growing world of technology, we are being conditioned to be distracted and retain less and less knowledge in our brains.
 
The argument can be made that with all the world’s information being stored digitally, it opens up the conscious areas of our brain to be more creative and expand on to other things. In other words, moving the all the data online frees up our brain’s hard drive.
 
But that argument is leaving out one key element, humans are inherently lazy. I’m not saying that there isn’t an ambitious few who does utilize the online "info-bank" to free up some memory for scientific endeavors, but by in large that isn’t what people do.
 
The rest of us spend our time YouTubing funny cats and the latest video game trailers, filling our frontal lobe and short term memory with useless information that doesn’t need to be cataloged into our long term memory. So, it isn’t.
 
We’ve all heard the saying; our brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Well, we run short bursts with our short-term memory and are forgetting how to store important information for long periods of time.
 
So, is the Internet making is stupid? I don’t know… Google it.