Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Is the Internet making us smarter or stupider (yes, it is a word)

A great debate on Q today - how I love to listen to experts speak!  Great points on both sides of the debate some of which are worth noting:

  1. we have a much shorter attention span now
  2. we've lost the ability to recall facts because all known thought is just one click away
  3. we don't get exposed to opposing viewpoints because we tend to read content (and follow others) who have similar views (confirmation bias)
  4. we don't take the time required for reflective thought (which is the basis for wisdom) because we are too busy amassing tid bits of information
  5. we don't realize how much misinformation there is online
  6. we gravitate to the trivial because its lure is very powerful
  1. we have access to the world's collective knowledge
  2. we are actively sharing knowlege rather than being passive -- that is we can now participate in the dialog
  3. we can form deeper connections with others because we know more about them over time -- their thoughts, interests, views, etc.
I still have more of the debate to listen to.  In the meantime it's got me thinking of my own growth.  Ten years ago I rarely read.  And today I am constantly reading.  Granted, most of it is online content, but I find that because of that, my interests have expanded and it's truly enriched my life. I feel like my conversations are more meaningful and my ability to relate to other ppl's interests has greatly improved, thanks to the Internet.  And it turns out that meaningful conversations are a great source of happiness for most people, including myself!

Some insight to add from two of my friends who are deep thinkers.  Regarding the above points:

3. confirmation bias is easier, but we've always done it. Think of how we read newspapers -- rarely start to finish -- we naturally gravitate to what interests us.  Plus most of it doesn't even stick.  In the same way that we're not likely to make friends with people who have opposing political interests in person, we probably won't friend them on FB either.  This hasn't really changed because of the Internet.  Of course you can create a much bigger echo chamber for yourself on social media.  And that's certainly something you need to be conscious of because you are limiting your view of the world and opportunity for growth
4. the Internet did not cause the decline in wisdom:  Most people just don't make time for reflective thought, probably because their minds are too pre-occupied with activities and noise and this has been going on well before the Internet.  I agree that very few people are big revolutionary thinkers.  But how many more thinkers could there be, were their minds not filled with meaningless dribble?
5. there's always been misinformation; every study is in some way flawed, be it the sample size or composition, the research methodology, the conclusions ... research can prove anything.  The Internet has not changed that.

Some other points from my friends:
1. Were it not for the Internet, how would we be spending our time?  Is the lure of the Internet so powerful that it's taken time away from activities that make us smarter, such as reading?  I guess it depends on what you are doing online.  Looking at cat vids, spreading celebrity gossip, filling your head with factoids, surfing porn?
2. Most people's online behaviour is moderate.  The majority of my FB friends don't share their emotions. I know that I feel uncomfortable about sharing my moments of happiness, lest it be perceived as Bragbook.  Nor do I like to see myself complaining or venting too much -- I'm just polluting other people's space with my negativity.  So what's left?  Sharing a bit of humour, insight and interest -- the best parts of myself and of my friends.

Ahhhh, I loved this discussion today.  Didn't really reach any conclusions, but the discussion helped me see things differently.

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