Is Google Making Us Smarter?

It depends on how you use the web, and how you define “smarter.”

The internet was abuzz this summer over Nicholas Carr‘s eloquent argument in The Atlantic that the internet is eroding our ability to read long and complex texts (if you agree, but can’t make it through to the end of his 4,200-word essay, chalk it up to confirmation bias).

Now, a new study finds that skilled, thoughtful web surfing can actually build cognitive skills and may delay the onset of dementia in older users.

The findings of the study, by U.C.L.A. memory specialist Gary Small, do not necessarily refute Carr’s argument.

Small’s team found that experienced web users experience increased stimulation in the regions of their brains that handle complex reasoning and decision making. The activity was more widespread than when the same subjects were reading a book, or when inexperienced web users surfed the internet.

In other words, being able to tease out useful information from all the chaff on the internet can be as intellectually demanding a task as completing a crossword puzzle.

But is puzzle solving the same kind of “smartness” as the “smartness” that comes from reading a book?


Ron R

Sure, web surfing is active and engaging, and it probably exercises the decision-making part of the brain. But it has also decreased our attention spans to one-minute-or-less. If I am reading an essay nowadays, especially on a computer screen, I find that restlessness sets in far too early.

Tyler

It only makes sense that internet use would increase and encourage development of areas of the brain that traditional 'reading' wouldn't. #10's point that the internet is more like 'Choose Your Own Adventure' than a regular book is true, but the idea that the internet is like a crossword is even more appropriate. Performing a web search is an analytical activity: we must choose how to define the parameters of the search, we must choose (with limited information) which search result best answers the search inquiry, we must be able to determine whether the link we chose to click is actually what we want to read. This is a lot like reading a crossword clue, trying to figure out the right answer based on the other information we have from the surrounding clues/answers, and then deciding whether the answer we chose is appropriate.

Reading on the internet, though is obviously different than reading in a book (on a book we're reading light reflected, on a computer we're reading light projected, so our eyes just don't react the same way). To talk about reading on the internet being better or worse than reading a book is to miss the point.

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james

could we compare internet usage to say wikipedia usage? Especially against people whom read all the articles they were referenced to?

David Chowes, New York City

The internet has made all of us available to a magnitude of information with incredable speed. . . .

My use of it has given me an unbelievable amount of information. Quickly!

I, as a result, have become far smarter!

I wonder: how people reacted to the demise of scribes and when people commented on that new fangled short to survive Guttenburg press?

Quercus

I don't know about dumber, but Iternet access sure has become a terrific time waster for me.

Note the fact that it is 5:00 pm and I have pretty much waster my last half hour at work reading the NY times.

I have learned things, there is a beetle that is destroying pine forests faster than any wildfire, Obama picked his atty general and there is a transferable cancer killing Tasmanian Devils,. Now granted that last one is going to be a terrific little factoid to drop in a converstion, but all this knowledge has not contributed one itoa to gtting my work done.

And now I'm not only reading the net, I'm writing to it. I'm hopless. Does anyone know of a job that calls for net surfing? I could do it 10 -12 hours a day easy.

sign me faciinated and addicted..

Bob McCullough

I used this article in a reference to Google on "A Google Success story".

Talk about chasing your own tail! LOL!

Google works for me. I am a cancer patient and google has helped me find life saving cancer clinical trials.

This is amazing. Whats next?

The Singularity is coming and machines will magnify human intelligence?

Great time to be alive!