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New research says Google/Internet enhances our intelligence
March 1, 2010
by Mark Ollig

“The Future of the Internet IV” report was recently released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

This report suggests the means used to acquire information from the Internet adds to our intelligence.

Part one of this report recognizes the controversial 2008 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” written for The Atlantic magazine by Nicholas Carr.

In this article, Carr states his ability to concentrate is being reduced because of the ease of online searching. Carr said browsing for information over the web was possibly limiting his capacity to concentrate.

The first sentence in Carr’s article attempts to set the scene in his reader’s minds by quoting the line from the 1968 movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey” between the exceptionally intelligent supercomputer named “Hal” and Dr. Dave Bowman, the human astronaut.

“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” Hal desperately pleads as Dave continues to disconnect the memory modules from the supercomputer which had become too controlling over him.

Carr appears to use this scene to imply we are losing our ability to think for ourselves, that we are becoming overly dependent upon the computing devices and sources that find information for us over the Internet.

After reading Carr’s article, I found myself in agreement with the author questioning himself when he suggests “. . . maybe I’m just a worrywart.”

A year after Nicholas Carr’s article hit the mainstream, a counter article appeared in the same magazine by Jamais Cascio, who suggested that “Google isn’t the problem; it’s the beginning of a solution.” Cascio also wrote, “. . . there’s no going back. The information sea isn’t going to dry up.”

Pew Research mentions the Carr and Cascio articles and uses them as comparison background in their report.

In this latest report, 895 expert respondents were asked to share their view of how our human intellect is being affected by the ability to have information easily obtained over Google and the Internet.

This report also asks how this ability would affect us 10 years into the future.

The final Pew survey results included hundreds of the written responses.

Under Part 1, Pew asks whether Google will make people stupid.

Dean Bubley, a wireless industry consultant said, “I think that certain tasks will be “offloaded” to Google or other Internet services rather than performed in mind, especially remembering minor details . . . ”

“Google allows us to be more creative in approaching problems and more integrative in our thinking. We spend less time trying to recall and more time generating solutions,” wrote Paul Jones, who is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

On the other hand, Robert Acklund from the Australian National University gives an interesting synopsis by saying, “My ability to do mental arithmetic, is worse than my grandfathers because I grew up in an era with pervasive personal calculators . . . I am not stupid compared to my grandfather, but I believe the development of my brain has been changed by the availability of technology.

“The same will happen (or is happening) as a result of the Googleization of knowledge. People are becoming used to bite sized chunks of information that are compiled and sorted by an algorithm. This must be having an impact on our brains, but it is too simplistic to say that we are becoming stupid as a result of Google.”

After reading Aucklund’s thoughts, I am once again reminded not all of the information available on the Internet is “good” or “reliable” information, so, like a famous president once said, “Trust, but verify.”

Seventy-six percent of these experts agree Google “won’t make us stupid.”

Pew asks, “Will the Internet still be free and unfettered in 2020, or will there be more control of information?” Sixty-one percent of the experts surveyed said they believe the Internet’s original purpose of free and open access to all information will still exist.

Christine Greenhow, an educational researcher at the University of Minnesota and Yale Information and Society Project says “We might imagine that in 10 years, our definition of intelligence will look very different. By then, we might agree on “smart” as something like a ‘networked’ or ‘distributed’ intelligence, where knowledge is our ability to piece together various and disparate bits of information into coherent and novel forms.”

Sixty-five percent agreed with the Pew statement that “by 2020, reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge will be improved.”

“As the Internet gets more sophisticated, it will enable a greater sense of empowerment among users. We will not be more stupid, but we will probably be more dependent upon it,” writes Bernie Hogan, from the Oxford Internet Institute.

“Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and rendering of knowledge,” concluded Janna Anderson, who co-authored this latest Pew Research report.

The link to Nicholas Carr’s article is: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google.

Jamais Cascios article is at: www.theatlantic.com/doc/200907/intelligence.

You can read “The Future of the Internet IV” Pew Research report at this shortened link: tinyurl.com/yawzxvp.