Thursday, June 3, 2010
Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?
From Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing (lecture) to an HP study of online multi-tasking (article), to Nicholas Carr, author of "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (NPR interview), there are plenty of warnings against too much of a digital thing.
Ironically, I found all the warnings online.
To a certain extent, I agree that people do a lot of stupid things online. They waste a lot of time and manage to overlook what they are looking for. They accept online versions of a story they would never believe if it were told to their face. They copy and paste, oftentimes reproducing falsehoods or violating guidelines of fair use.
One of the observations Nicholas Carr makes is that shallow reading (skimming, jumping from one thing to the next) commonly occurs online. This has made it harder for him to engage in deeper reading. The temptation is to fall prey to "Internet-influenced attention deficit disorder."
Maybe it's the sheer volume of stuff to read or the tendency of web designers to recreate the equivalent sensory overload of Times Square that turns us into skimmers and multitaskers. I don't know for sure, but I can relate.
Some of the deepest reading I've done has been online. For me, investigative searching provides balance for shallow skimming and relentless surfing. Taking a little time to track down the source of information, determine if inaccuracies have been overlooked, becoming familiar with who links to the information--these represent deeper thinking. In fact, I've probably done more deeper thinking online paying attention to clues on which credibility depends than I've done with works in print. Juried or edited works in print tend not to require as much investigation.
I don't need to belabor the point. A habit of investigating online information is bound to make one smarter rather than dumber.
Mindless Internet usage, on the other hand, can be a stupid pastime.
Try an Investigative Challenge: Use It or Lose It?