Is Google making us smarter, or stupider?

A recent study conducted at UCLA found that using Internet search engines stimulates brain activity, and may even help reduce the risk of dementia in older web surfers.

Experienced web users displayed much more brain activity than the inexperienced — which researchers think reflects the use of a more complex search strategy.  Besides thinking about what information they’re looking for, savvy searchers are also gaming the search engine to get the best results — a process that is completely beyond someone who doesn’t know their Google from their Yahoo.  Thus, experienced surfers not only showed brain activity in the areas that control language, reading, memory, and visual abilities — they also fired up regions for complex reasoning and decision-making.

Although this study focused on elder netizens (ages 55 to 78), presumably the brain benefits extend to advanced searchers of all ages.  What then of Nick Carr’s questions about how search engines and the Internet generally are changing the way we think, perhaps for the worse?  Are we becoming less able to apply long-term attention, as Carr suggests?

Perhaps so — but that may not be as much of a loss as it sounds.  As information becomes ever more available, the patience that was once required in order to gather knowledge may become less important.  But the way in which we synthesize that knowledge will sort out the thinkers from the mere receptacles for the stream of information.  Like any tool, the Internet will cause some skills to become lost arts — but it will enable us to develop new skills we still haven’t foreseen.

Is “stupider” even a word?  I don’t know, go google it.

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8 Responses to Is Google making us smarter, or stupider?

  1. Well this makes sense. I've never really understood the luddites who always scream whatever new information technology is making us all dumber. Things like search engines merely change the way we think, not diminish it. I can has cheezburger, now?

    • Thanks, Kevin. I suppose with any new technology there will always be a number of resulting "couch potatoes" — people who simultaneously lose their old skills and fail to acquire new ones. But the general trend, I think, is that people discover new opportunities to exercise their brains whenever the old problems are satisfactorily solved. With all our technology, I don't think we're less intelligent than our ancient ancestors — but we do have a devil of a time memorizing epic poems.

  2. Well this makes sense. I’ve never really understood the luddites who always scream whatever new information technology is making us all dumber. Things like search engines merely change the way we think, not diminish it. I can has cheezburger, now?

    • Thanks, Kevin. I suppose with any new technology there will always be a number of resulting “couch potatoes” — people who simultaneously lose their old skills and fail to acquire new ones. But the general trend, I think, is that people discover new opportunities to exercise their brains whenever the old problems are satisfactorily solved. With all our technology, I don’t think we’re less intelligent than our ancient ancestors — but we do have a devil of a time memorizing epic poems.

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