Experts agree Google not making us stupid

According to a new report out of the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

76% of the experts agreed with the statement, “By 2020, people’s use of the internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Nicolas Carr, of course, agrees with himself, and argues:

What the Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence. The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.”

The Google employees among the experts naturally defend the impact of Google (and the web generally) as the facilitator of new kinds of knowledge and thinking, and of increased access to information across the world’s population.

The rest of the respondents present compelling and nuanced responses that are well worth reading. Many of them expound on the basic premise that “The question is flawed: Google will make intelligence different.”

The major themes identified by Pew among their respondents are:

  • The resources of the internet and search engines will shift cognitive capacities.
  • We won’t have to remember as much, but we’ll have to think harder and have better critical thinking and analytical skills. Less time devoted to memorization gives people more time to master those new skills.
  • Technology isn’t the problem here. It is people’s inherent character traits. The internet and search engines just enable people to be more of what they already are. If they are motivated to learn and shrewd, they will use new tools to explore in exciting new ways. If they are lazy or incapable of concentrating, they will find new ways to be distracted and goof off.
  • It’s not Google’s fault if users create stupid queries.
  • The big struggle is over what kind of information Google and other search engines kick back to users. In the age of social media where users can be their own content creators it might get harder and harder to separate high-quality material from junk.
  • Literary intelligence is very much under threat.
  • New literacies will be required to function in this world. In fact, the internet might change the very notion of what it means to be smart. Retrieval of good information will be prized. Maybe a race of “extreme Googlers” will come into being.
  • One new “literacy” that might help is the capacity to build and use social networks to help people solve problems.
  • Nothing can be bad that delivers more information to people, more efficiently. It might be that some people lose their way in this world, but overall, societies will be substantially smarter.
  • Google itself and other search technologies will get better over time and that will help solve problems created by too-much-information and too-much-distraction.
  • The more we use the internet and search, the more dependent on it we will become.
  • Even in little ways, including in dinner table chitchat, Google can make people smarter.
  • ‘We know more than ever, and this makes us crazy.’
  • A final thought: Maybe Google won’t make us more stupid, but it should make us more modest.

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