Google and extension of the mind


The amount of stimulation the Internet can provide can be overwhelming at times, but I think that this characteristic may be surpassed by the benefits of having large amounts of information at your fingertips.

“Googling” has become almost a daily part of our lives, and only becomes more so as the power of the Google search engines increases its reach. There is, however, an ongoing debate about whether this type of accessibility through technology is making us smarter or dumber.

Though people may argue that having such tempting access to vast oceans of random things on the Internet, I do not think that people can blame the Internet for their own lack of focus, concentration, or contemplation.

We’ve been through similar experiences with the onset of cable television, but the Internet seems to be the new scapegoat for decreased productivity or intelligent thought.

I tend to agree with this author from Discover Magazine, who says that this type of access to information can be a natural extension of our minds that can allow us to learn more easily because we are able to go out and grab the bits of information that we need at any moment.

So I think that this means that, if our minds are jumbled and easily distracted, our online activity will represent that jumbled mess, often through distracted clicking. We can’t blame the tools we have for the ways that we are using them. That would be like chopping vegetables and getting angry at the knife because we cut ourselves from lack of concentration on finger location among the vegetables.

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4 Responses

  1. Wolfram Alpha | science before breakfast says

    [...] complex calculations, and a lot of other things if you watch the demo video. This brings me back to a post I wrote earlier about the impact that the Internet has had on knowledge, intelligence, and our minds, especially [...]

  2. chewbear says

    Lindsay brings up a important point, that knowledge is also vulnerable to extinction. A real life example is that indigenous knowledge of forest management systems in many tropical areas is not being passed down as it used to because people are not relying on them for subsistence as much as they have before. You could blame this on development or globalization, but there are many factors involved.

    Adamus, you also make a great point. By looking up the solutions, people are not going through the process of figuring out problems on their own and the process is as valuable to our intelligence as knowing what the solution is. The hope now is that, since we can realize this is what can happen to us, we can do things to prevent it.

  3. Adamus says

    To expand on Lindsay’s point, intelligence is much more than just memorizing or looking up facts. Real intelligence, imho, is the ability to analyse and find solutions for problems.

    Instant access to vast amounts of information makes it much, MUCH easier to find solutions for problems. There’s a very high probability the problem you’re facing has been faced by someone else, and the solution published online. So you don’t need to solve the problem yourself – you just need to look up the solution. This is applicable to a wide range of problems, from trouble with your PC to relationships to fixing your car to increasing your performance at work.

    Because we’re only looking up solutions instead of analysing our problems, we’re slowly unlearning our analytical and problem-solving skills. We don’t use those parts of our brains so much any more, so they atrophy and die in favour of our Googling skills which we use every day.

    So Google is making us stoopid, by making us smarter only when we’re connected.

  4. Lindsay says

    Google makes us smarter…until we don’t have internet access, for one reason or another, at which point there’s a 1:1 ratio of how dumb we are to how dependent we are on technology. One could make the same argument with books, though. We don’t memorize stories, anymore, because they’re in books, which is great, until they get destroyed in a fire… Read More.

    Ultimately, I think part of our intelligence as a species is that of technological creation. We just need to make sure we have failsafes for when bugs in our machines pop up. Or for when there’s a really big fire.