The wide spread use of the internet is often hailed as a victory for freedom of information and for the intelligence of the general public. Never before have people had easy access to so much information and never have people been so potentially well informed about events going on around them as well events happening thousands of miles away. Despite this, several people claim that, far from helping people to understand the world, the internet and especially search engines such as Google, are having a directly retarding effect on the people who use them. The ease with which information is accessed means that one no longer has to think about anything of this information deeply and that this lack of thought means that people are more prepared then ever to accept the opinions which they see uncritically. As well as this, it has been shown that prolonged exposure to computers and to search engines has negative neurological effect as well as a sociological one. This paper will consider these factors in order to show that the supposed benefits of the internet are two sided and that it can be shown that things as Google are making people more stupid rather than making them smarter.
One of the major benefits of the internet is that it enables people to look up information easily and allows them to be well informed about world events. Several people claim that this is an inherently good thing and that many people are more intelligent and informed as a result of it. However the question is raised as to how people are able to function outside the resources which are granted, and indeed how much they have come resemble the tools which they use. One recent writer has argued that people now essentially resemble tablets or smart phones in they way that they go about solving and coping with problems which face them and that ‘their ability to solve problems depends not on knowledge they can store but on their capacity to connect to a place where they can retrieve the answer to find a solution…the only knowledge we need to have is the knowledge of where to find stuff.’ (Chamarro-Premuzic, 2013.) The excessive us of search engines has meant that people are no longer able to solve problems without the use of technology and that, as such, they consistently find themselves in positions in which, were they to be without the tools which they rely on then they would be unable to perform even the most simple tasks of navigation or of information finding. This had led to a generalised decline in what is termed ‘Crystallised IQ,’ which names the capacity for individuals to retain and process information on their own, without the help of technology or other external factors.
The social consequences of the overuse of the internet are not limited to adults, but can also be seen in children and amongst those who first learning how to be and to act in the world. The use of the internet and social networking from an early age can have serious effects on children’s capacities to understand the world around them, and this effect will certainly stay with them throughout adulthood. One expert argues that; ‘Adults can evaluate and reject various technologies…but kids lack the experience and self-control to do so…They may be more tech-savvy than their parents, but they are also under greater social pressure to engage with next big thing.’ (Vezina, 2011.) Not only does the effect of the ease of access to information cause people to lose skills which they have otherwise developed or used, but it may also lead to young people never developing these skills in the first place. A child who is raised in a world in which information is easily accessible could potentially never learn to process information in way which would operate outside of this ease of access and is therefore likely to be considerably less able to deal with the world around them. Although it can be argued that children are now able to access information about their world in a way which was previously impossible, it is almost certainly true that this ease of access is bought at the cost of a capacity to think carefully and to critically analyse what is around them.
It is often claimed that using the internet and search engines enables one to exercise their brain function more often and to engage in games and memory tasks which would enable more consistent brain activity, and therefore would lead to people becoming more, rather than less intelligent. However, while serious research demonstrates that activities like this, and others associated with the ease of access to information are not harmful, they rarely show that using the internet everyday leads to an actual increase in intelligence. (Small, et al. 2009) Rather, to return to the original point made, it seems as if a reliance on technology can only lead to process in which the apparent capacity for the brain to perform complex tasks is mediated by the fact that it can only perform these tasks within the remit in which they are set, and that this remit is severely limited in its functions outside of the technological world.
In conclusion, this paper has argued that the proliferation of things such as Google and social networking sites can be seen as having a retarding effect on specific people’s intelligence and on society’s intelligence as a whole. This can been by considering things such Crystallised IQ, the effect of the sites on children and also by refuting arguments made about the supposed benefits of the technologies to people’s brain capacities. While it is very unlikely that people will stop using these sites in order to gather information and to live their daily lives, it seem crucially important to foreground the effect that they may be having both on these lives themselves and on the lives of future generations.
- Chamorro-Prezmuzic, Thomas. “Is Technology Making us Stupid or Smarter. Psychology Today. 2013. Web. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mr-personality/201305/is-technology-making-us-stupid-and-smarter
- Small, Gary, W. “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation During Internet Searching.” AMJ Geriatr Psychology. 17 (12) 2007, 116-140. Print.
- Vezina, Kenrick. “Status Update: What’s Facebook’s Effect on Kids?” Technology Review. 2011. Web. http://www.technologyreview.com/news/424955/status-update-whats-facebooks-effect-on-kids/