How the internet does not make us stupid

Reading Nicholas Carr’s article in ‘The Age’ 10 Sept 2010, got me thinking.  It was entitled “How the Internet makes us stupid” based on his book   “The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember”

But our dependence on the internet has a dark side. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

Whilst reading I had to agree, that using the internet as a source of information could probably encourage us to move from deep readers to skim readers.  He cited research that shows that as the number of links a document has increases, so our comprehension decreases – the power of distraction takes over.

It made me wonder though – reading is only one element of web use in the world of Web 2.0.  Carr only mentioned the one-way street of Internet use – as the consumer.   When we apply what we read by blogging, or commenting or bookmarking for future reference, are we not engaging the higher order thinking that Carr says we are using less and less?

Carr talks about the division of attention and mentions that we cannot conduct deep thinking tasks whilst being distracted.   This is a common discussion in my household – teenagers arguing that having Facebook or MSN open does not distract them from their maths problems – the jury is out in this house on this matter, but I tend to agree with Carr.

If Carr is correct on the ‘shallowing’ of our thinking, we are perhaps witnessing a change.    Are we now only capable of handling small chunks of information rather than longer ones?  If this is the case, what does this mean for issues that cannot be confined to a ‘screen shot’?   Despite the evidence he cites, I am not convinced.

The only definite thing is, that Internet as a source of information is here to stay, and we, as educators, need to ensure we give our students the ability to use it as well as possible.   The distractions of the multimedia that Carr blames for our lack of attention are entrenched in our Information systems.  The ability to construct a successful web search and apply Information Literacy skills are therefore vitally important.  These same distractions are also the force that makes this information palatable to many readers – captures their attention etc.

Using the internet in the collaborative style that Web 2.0 technologies allow  ie contributing via Wikis, Blogs, Nings  etc has to have some impact on the level of thinking as we move from consumers of information to  creators.

So I guess, I am saying that Carr is right to a degree, the Internet could be making us stupid (or lazy might be a better word), but if we don’t let it, it won’t.

Now your turn- answer my poll (please)

Soem reactions on Twitter to Carr’s article

Twitter reactions to The Age article
Twitter reactions to The Age article

2 thoughts on “How the internet does not make us stupid

  1. Interesting topic that is sure to cause much debate in my household. I have mixed feelings about this one…for me, the internet has provided an opportunity to learn so much more than I would ever have otherwise….it has enriched my life enormously. I can make the distinction between short, snippets of information from twitter and facebook, and the more substantial reading/viewing that I do for PD. brain has learnt how to do this….my son, on the other hand has never been able to concentrate for more than a few minutes. I will never know if his mobile phone and facebook account has caused this or if his was just born this way. He is a kinesthetic learner and fantastic at his sport.

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