Is the Internet Making us Smarter or Not?

I’ve been reading recently about an exchange among some very bright folks, some who posit that the Internet with its instant-on, sometimes-right, big-statement-wins mentality is making people think in a more shallow way, teaching us to rely on others as experts and diluting our logical thought process. Others state that it broadens our perspective and extends our mental reach. Whenever I see this kind of exchange on two ends of a spectrum, I begin to wonder if both sides might be correct.


I can certainly say that I have changed my way of learning, reading, and social interactions because of the Internet. And my tolerance for reading long missives has indeed gone down. I tend to (mentally and literally) “bookmark” things I never seem to have time to get back to. But I also agree that I’ve been exposed to thoughts, ideas and people I never would have encountered any other way. So how to deal with this dichotomy?


Well, I’m going to go off and think about it. No, I’m really going to go off for a full week to a cabin I’ve rented in a National Forest in the Midwest. It has no indoor plumbing, phones, Internet connections or anything else – only a bed to sleep in and a place to cook a little. I’m taking one book, some paper, and a guitar with me and that’s it. I plan to spend my days walking, reading a little, playing a little on the guitar, but mostly just thinking.

Those of you who know me might find this unusual. I’m an always-on, hyper-caffeinated, overly-busy, connected person. I haven’t taken a vacation in five years, at least for more than two or three days at a time. Even then, I keep us on the move constantly – our vacations aren’t cruises or anything like that. I check e-mail, post and all that. When I’m not on vacation, I live with and leverage lots of technology, and work with those that do the same. This, however, is a really “unplugged” event, and I’m hoping that it will let me unpack the things I’ve been stuffing in my head. I plan to spend a lot of time on a single subject, writing notes, thinking, and writing more notes.


So after I post tomorrow's “quote of the day” I’ll be “going dark” for a week. No twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, e-mail, chat, none of my five blogs will get updated, and I’ll have to turn in my two articles for early. I won’t have access to my college class portal, so my students will be without me for a week. I will really be offline. I’ll see you in a week – hopefully a little more educated. See you then.


Comments (4)

  1. Pat Wright says:

    Congrats on taking the time away.  I think it's a great idea and I'm sure good things will come out of it.  I think the internet as with everything is how each person uses it.  If someone doesn't take the time to write the script themselves or learn what it's doing, then no they have not learned anything from the internet.  On the other hand if they seek out information and then go back and use that information to build something great then they have learned something and the internet was helpful.  

  2. Brian Tkatch says:

    Breadth versus depth is an age-old concept. Same energy is invested in both, so we choose what fits us, and what is available.

    Knowledge versus wisdom is related, one is having the data, the other is knowing how to use it. The Internet provides lots of the former, and gives step-by-steps of the latter, but doesn't seem to teach the latter.

    Good luck on your vacation. I'll see if i can find a carrier pigeon.

  3. jonmcrawford says:

    I think it's a question of using (or not using) the tools available. The calculator allows us to not have to have the knowledge to perform long division in our heads (or on paper) but therefore allows us to abstract ourselves from that method and think in terms of larger ideas.

    Not everyone will do that, but it is possible. I think the folks who have the ability to think very deeply will be greatly benefited by the interconnected environment online. If you're just relying on experts instead of doing your own thinking, odds are you were doing that before the internet, you're just relying on different experts now.

    I, for one, have a new perspective on computing in general because I read the link you posted to Howard Rheingold's Tools For Thought. I like to think that it has greatly enhanced my ability to think due to the increased information within my immediate reach.

  4. Piotr Rodak says:

    Five blogs! When do you have time for all of them? :)

    Have great vacations :)

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