Response to: Is Google making us Stupid?

by Steve Lara

" . . . we get better at doing something we do often but less able to do something we ignore."

Can the everyday use of the internet change the way our brains work and so hinder our ability to concentrate long enough to read books? The article “Is Google making us Stupid?” suggests that even as adults our brains physically change to adapt to how we experience the world. This means our brains get better at solving problems we encounter often, but worse at things we do less often. The article "Get Smarter" says that human intelligence evolved to solve problems of planning our survival during our near extinction due to natural disasters thousands of years ago. Were we saved from extinction because our brains changed to be more capable of planning? Do our brains need another boost to solve modern problems? Is using Google changing our brains now to make us better at multitasking on several short bits of information, a current need, but sacrificing our ability to concentrate on one long string of information over a long time such as reading a long book?
Does using the internet more reduce reading practice and so make it harder to concentrate long enough to finish reading a book?

I think both articles made a convincing case that our constant use of the internet (a problem we currently face) instead of reading books makes us less capable of doing other things. It makes sense to me that we would get better at doing something we do often but less able to do something we ignore. Anyone who replays a sport after not playing for years will notice a decline in ability. To regain your former ability requires you to start practicing again. Just like exercise does make the muscles we use stronger, so using our brain gets stronger in the activity
we use it for, but less able to do things we do less often. Using our brains to get smarter apparently saved us from extinction when problem solving practice developed our ability to plan how to save ourselves.
war_and_peace_book_cover.jpgOur brain cell connections are changing even as adults as our brains physically change to adapt to how we use our brains. Our brains adapt to the scattered way the internet presents information, such as pop ups, side advertisements, background music and short articles. So the brain connections needed to process scattered information get stronger through being used more often and the connections needed to process a single thread of information such as reading a long book get weaker through less exercise. Our brain ability changes to become better at solving recurring problems such as using the internet or in the past planning how to survive a disaster but less able to maintain concentration on a long book.
Should we preserve our ability to read books by no longer using Google? I think getting rid of Google would be impossible as it is too useful for spreading knowledge just like writing is. Google type technology and the invention of writing both cause some problems but the benefits far outweigh the problems.search_mistake.gif

The great philosopher Socrates feared the development of writing because he thought it would make us forgetful since we would not have to memorize what we wrote down. Writing would make ignorant people look educated because they could easily gain information by reading without proper instruction on how to use information. Would we be better off by not writing anymore? No. Writing spreads knowledge. Should we stop relying on calculators because such reliance can make us forget the times tables? No, calculators are too useful. We cannot go back to the times before the invention of writing nor would the loss of access to knowledge be good for us because of all the doctors and inventors we would lose without widespread education available. The more educated people we have the better to help our chances of solving the ever increasing problems that could threaten our survival in the future.

I would not say that Google is making us stupid even if it does reduce our ability to read long books. Google is making us smarter because we exchanged one useful ability for another equally useful one. The ability to multitask that Google promotes is something that we use more often now for solving today's problems. The ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously makes us more efficient in jobs and school as well as smarter.

What about using technology and drugs to give us an intelligence boost to solve modern problems? To cope with ever increasing problems we must get smarter somehow. Thousands of years ago we were forced to get smarter, better able to solve problems, to survive and I think technology could help us get smarter today. We need to make education and so intelligence improvement available to the widest number of people to give ourselves the best chance to solve world problems.

In conclusion, I do think that our everyday use of search engines such as Google and the internet in general does change the ability of our brains to handle some tasks but some changes are beneficial. The internet makes us smarter by getting us more used to multitasking as far as handling more than one problem simultaneously. Getting smarter using technology will allow us to solve many problems and help us create a better world. Since we spend more time on the internet than reading books, our brains physically adapt to handle multiple problems and sacrifice our ability to handle one long string of information over a long time. The ability that is used less often will be sacrificed the way our bodies sacrifice muscles we use less often.