Sunday, October 17, 2010

More debate on how smart or dumb the Internet is making us

On the 10th of October I did a post titled 'Could Google make you dumb'.  I was interested to see this theme covered in the Sunday Star Times today with Sarah Harvey's article 'Are we smarter or stupider with the internet?  Experts can't agree.'    Click the link to check it out, or read the article, which I have pasted on this post, below.

Is the internet making us stupid? Sarah Harvey searches for the answer. 
OUR ONLINE reading habits are making us stupid and unable to read anything longer than a paragraph or two, according to research in London.

But New Zealand psychologists reject that notion, saying we are actually getting more intelligent because of the screeds of information available to us at a click of a button.

Journalist Nicholas Carr said, in an article published recently in The Atlantic and republished here in the Neurological Foundation's Headlines newsletter, that he was no longer "thinking the way I used to think".
"I can feel it most strongly when I'm reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. That's rarely the case any more. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

"I think I know what's going on. For more than a decade now, I've been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the internet.

"What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation."
University College London researchers agreed that our habit of skimming stories, reading what we wanted to read in short digestible pieces and not stopping for long on anything else meant that our concentration was diminishing.

They looked at research from different generations on the way young people get and process information and watched the way people from different ages used two web-based information resources.
They found lots of people indulged in a form of "skimming activity", while about 60% of e-journal users were found to view no more than three pages and a majority (up to 65%) never returned.

"It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense. Indeed there are signs that new forms of `reading' are emerging as users `power browse' through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."

But Tamar Murachver, from Otago University's psychology department, said it was the same old "scaremongering" that occurred when there was any change in society or technology.

"When people started reading books, when books were first in print and were available in everyone's homes, there was scaremongering about how this was going to ruin the social fabric of society because people would sit in the corner and read instead of conversing with one another.
"People made similar kinds of arguments when we had television, and then it was computer games and now it is the internet. It's almost like if there is a change, it takes people a while to adjust to it, and initially they just see that any kind of change is bad." She said there was more evidence that over the last decade intelligence has been increasing.

"It might be that being exposed to a lot of different ideas and having to integrate them could be a good thing for thinking."

Prof Michael Corballis, of Auckland University, said one could make the argument that the internet was an alternative to our memory so maybe our memory would be affected.

"It's a revolution something like the printing revolution – a step up making everything more accessible – but I don't know that it makes us stupider. In some ways it makes us more intelligent. But I think there is a natural tendency to balance things out, and if it's all crap, people will look for more intelligent pieces of information."

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