Official: Google does NOT make us stupid

Remember when The Pew Internet & American Life Project asked me to participate in the latest iteration of their “expert” surveys on “the future of the internet”?

Well, the full report is now out, and you can see the aggregate answers of the other participants and their quotes. There were 895 respondents in total.

Interesting which bits of it are being picked up by others.

Here is a slideshow summarizing the results:

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39 thoughts on “Official: Google does NOT make us stupid

    • Hello Peter and Andreas,

      You boys are so darn cute, I can’t stand it.

      Everyone knows starting an essay (maybe not a blog post) with a question is silly.

      I’d like Andreas to go back and calculate how many articles for the Economist he has begun with a question.

      Now, I am not dissing a well placed question, especially rhetorical ones, at any other place in an essay. But what do I know?

    • Sure. Everyone knows starting an essay with a question is silly just as “we all know” that Augustus hired Virgil to write a poem about what it is to be a Roman, that protons are spin-1/2 fermions composed of two up-quarks and a down-quark, and that the duckbilled platypus has 52 chromosomes.

      Is it OK if the headline is a question?

  1. Nothing can make anyone stupid… not counting actual physical brain damage… though inherent stupidity that had been successfully concealed might be exposed…

    • Hmmm. Gotta think about that.

      We all seem to believe that certain things (reading to kids, good conversations….) can make people smarter. So the obverse must also be true…

    • Yes. And also the ability to APPLY knowledge, that “other” thing. Google (meaning the internet) could thus help us to become smarter because we can outsource “knowledge maintenance” (aka memory) to it as we have outsourced arithmetic to abacuses and calculators, thus focusing entirely on interpreting and applying that knowledge as we crunch numbers with calculators.

    • I think we, by storytelling, teach our children (or maybe just help them to) use their memory abilities. This, then, improves our cognitive functioning making them appear to be smarter. There is an old quote: “All learning is remembering”. I think this is very true in that our ability to use memory is critical to taking tests, problem solving, and day to day functioning.

    • I’m talking about “smart”, as in the opposite of “stupid”, which was Nick Carr’s phrase.

      Well, technically speaking, it was the Atlantic’s headline writers’ phrase – I don’t think you’ll find it used in my article – but, anyway, it’s good to know we now have an “official” answer. I’ll sleep easier.

    • he, he, he, it’s official by consensus! and why the heck didn’t you title your book from edison to the internet? why give “google” the props? there are some brainiacs out here who think the two are synonymous.

      would you please comment on the Washington Post article and “net neutrality”, apparently the concept is quite abstract and not a matter of current affairs.

      oh, BTW, i will still exist if you don’t respond… my status however?

    • I believe, though, that—depending on how we use (or disuse) our brains—we can increase or decrease the number of neural connections in our brains. Losing connections equals dumbing down (e.g., by engaging in too many passive brain activities, like watching T.V.), and adding to these connections (e.g., by using our brains creatively, such as writing, solving puzzles, always looking for new ways to do things, etc.) ups our problem-solving abilities, i.e., makes us smarter.

      There may be a genetic limit as to the number of those connections each one of us would be able to establish even under ideal conditions, much like not everyone can build muscles like Schwarzenegger no matter how many weights they push, but I think it’s fair to say that many or most of use are under-using our brains, perhaps aided by the habitual use of machines, even such old-fashioned ones as calculators (which seduce us to forgo doing even simple calculations in our heads).

    • Peter, I think you are right about allowing our brains to atrophy by disuse. Some have said that alcohol kills brain cells but I have performed quite well after a night of alcohol abuse, sometimes better than when I stayed sober. Subjective observations, I grant.

      While the access to calculators has caused me to slack off on doing math in my head (or on paper) out of laziness, the few times I have eschewed the calculator, I have found that I have retained the ability and the knowledge to do it. Yep, surprised me too.

  2. Thanks for posting this. These are interesting questions, I think this was actually a valuable study for developers of products and tech investors.

    I knew where I fell on most of the questions, but the results were very interesting.

  3. I did a gender breakdown of the comments quoted in the Pew report.

    139 were from males; and 16 were from females. Thus 90% were from males; and 10% from females. So we know who still runs the world, or, more pertinently, corporate America, n’est-ce pas?!!

    As for the future of novels, short stories, poems and plays, is there any evidence that less are being produced today and read today, than in yesteryear?

    I suggest that with all the new opportunities for the written word to be got out and read, we may be on the cusp of a new flowering of literary culture. And I’m not thinking just of English-speaking North America, but of all the world.

    Think of the countless millions of young people beyond North America’s shores, both east and west, in Asia and Africa, and south of the Rio Grande, who, courtesy of the new technology, will have opportunities as never before to get their stuff read, and this will spur them to greater creativity.

    Despite the most insuperable obstacles, novels stories poems and plays have been written and read everywhere ever since writing was invented. Do the likes of Twitter, Facebook, the cell phone, and all the other things which Cassandras wail over, present obstacles to literary creativity greater than the usual suspects, like primitive technology, mass illiteracy, censorship, rampant plagues, mass poverty etc?

    Let the Cassandras wail. They have nothing to lose but their tears.

    • “…90% were from males; and 10% from females. So we know who still runs the world,…”

      This percentage reflects no world-running power but … geekiness, in which we males do still have an edge.

      I share your general optimism about the written word (in whatever form).

      But the history geek and pedant in me must point out: Cassandra, Hector’s sister, was always … right!

    • “…….This percentage reflects no world-running power but … geekiness, in which we males do still have an edge………”

      The breakdown of the participants was:

      15% research scientists

      14% business leaders and entrepreneurs

      12% consultants or futurists

      12% authors, editors, journalists

      9% technology developers, administrators

      7% advocates, activist users

      3% pioneers, originators

      2% legislators, politicians, lawyers

      25% other

      It seems to me that the intent was for participants to come from all areas of endeavour, since well-nigh everyone uses the internet, and the participants were prophesying where our whole society is going.

      Do legislators, politicians, lawyers, authors, editors, journalists, advocates, and indeed “other”s, all tend towards geekiness?

      I suggest that the activities which the participants are engaged in, do reflect world-running power.

    • dead on phil, “the usual suspects, like primitive technology, mass illiteracy, censorship, rampant plagues, mass poverty etc?” 🙂

      it’s the point that is loosely addressed in tension issue five. not the technology itself, but the inequity to access to it. in our neck of the woods, those without access to computers and internet are at a great disadvantage – i would vote with the 29% that this trend will continue.

      perhaps someone can phrase this better?

      BTW, what are the stats of men vs women on the hannibal blog? 🙂

    • hyperlink test.

      i think what i am trying to say is the “digital divide” that was referenced will increase. but will the quality of information increase for those who have access
      if this hyperlink fails, please delete it.

      and yes, the talking point was the future of “end-to-end” – he who controls access to information controls a lot.

      using the term “google” interchangeably with “internet” is a good example, since you can find anything directly with an ip address, but what you find with a google search is product placement and skillful meta filter use. not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but “google” already controls what rises to the top in a search.

    • “.. what are the stats of men vs women on the hannibal blog?..”

      No idea. But that would be interesting. I don’t know how to find out, short of doing a poll.

  4. andreas,

    how did you respond to slide 16, or tension pair 5

    can you provide a hyper link? it was too long for me to focus. these few lines took me an hour to write.

    it was something i commented about when you were “in the closet”, but i got no response. (from my comment i would be with the 29%)

    was there a tension pair that addresses “consensus does not equal knowledge”, or am i correct that somewhere the assumption is made that the more the internet is used the better the quality of “rendering information” will become?

    • I responded that the internet is more likely to retain its basic “end-to-end principle”.

      What an unfortunate term, by the way. To the average person that means nothing.

      I don’t remember now, but i don’t think I elaborated that particular answer.

      What link do you want me to provide?

    • wow, this time i am truly puzzled at the lack of response to a single one of my posts!

      consensus does not equal knowledge.

      google does not mean the internet.

      and the washington post plucked my singular topic of interest to feature. (see link above)

      despite having a population of 1 billion people, africa makes up only less than 4% of total internet users: internetworldstats here

      yet the topic of end-to-end principle (not to mention the internets digital flotsom that is one big ocean of unedited data) peaked not a single of the hannibal blog audience interest. despite the suggestion that the survey participants reflect world-running power.

      scary what some folks find unimportant. the future of the internet is so bright, i better where shades 🙂

    • Well, consensus indeed does not equal knowledge. But nobody said it did, so perhaps nobody is all that suprised now to hear it.

      Google does not mean the internet: Also correct, but rather obvious. We’re only using that shorthand because of Nick Carr’s snappy title.

      Africa and the digital divide. Terrible, but I have nothing to say about it.

      End-to-end principle: Slightly different, hence confusing here: It refers to whether the network remains “dumb”, the intelligence residing at its “edge”, ie with us. The alternative is that bandwidth providers start interfering more in the center. It’s quite abstract.

  5. I liked what the 3M lady, Sandra Kelley, said; “[…]I would guess that smart people use the Internet for smart things and stupid people use it for stupid things […].” This theme is common with other topics we’ve discussed on the HB; texting, Twitter, etc. The template works for just about every situation. In Sandra’s quote, replace the word Internet with your favorite technolgy; airplanes, light bulbs, vaseline, Post-It-Notes, etc.

    I couldn’t really understand the Power Point presentation, so I made the mistake of going to the link “being picked up.” Gack. I hate those sorts of articles. So irresponsible – all for the sake of getting viewed. Would you agree that the title, “Sorry, English majors, the engineers have triumphed,” is taken from a non-parallel construction in the text and is a totally irrelevant to the disucssion? Do I hear a smug chuckle? Is the author saying engineers are better writers? Does the survey have anything to do with this? Since when do engineers write things that are concise and that are easily skimmed? Oh, I get it. Did engineers, by creating gadgets, kill literature? Is the author, Nate Anderson, a moron? To Nate’s credit, the annoying-ness of the aritcle is the whole reason I decided to write a comment. I took the bait. Grrrr. I hate you Nate. I love you Sandra. Has anyone seen my medication?

    • LOL.

      I’m hiding your medication.

      Yes, Sandra wins. Sometimes the most obvious is the best answer, everything else is verbiage.

      That’s the problem with these surveys: they go all over the place, with different questions and then different answers to each different question, and soon enough nobody can write a coherent headline about them at all.

    • @ mr. crotchety or andreas,

      i’m not sure how you landed on ms. kelley, but i would have substituted the word “ignorant” for stupid, since it is nearly impossible without a reference point to decipher digital flotsam from fact when it comes to the internet.

      here is a fun site full of fun factoids

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