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Google – Is it making us stupid?

What if the internet isn’t just a resource, but actually an extension of mind? A cognitive brain enhancement tool that is transforming the way humans think?

Some experts eagerly pursue that notion, while others believe that technology is dumbing us down, making us lazy and incapable of thinking for ourselves.

What’s changed?

According to the Marist Poll, 49 percent of Americans think technology makes people dumber, while 46 percent say it makes people smarter. So we’re about an even split on this topic.

We have immediate access to knowledge and to each other, making us more productive now than ever before. But are we getting any smarter as a result?

Experts disagree, and so do the intelligence test results. While non-verbal IQ tests results are rising, Verbal IQ, the Flynn Effect and others are decreasing.

There are varying opinions as to why this is happening. Some believe that humans have reached their genetic potential and are now on the decline. Others believe it’s because we let technology do the “thinking” for us. Still, others say it’s just plain laziness.

To further complicate the issue, consider the many types of intelligence. There’s social intelligence, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, spatial relations, language, musical, kinesthetic, existential, mathematical, logical … and all of them contain both learned and unlearned aspects.

But there’s another type of intelligence. When we’re not connected to a device, we’re more intellectually vulnerable. Without online access, even a connected 7-year-old could “outsmart” us. That’s one aspect of what’s called “Fluid Intelligence.”

The effects of technology

Let’s be honest. When you need a good map, suggestions for hurricane survival, investment advice, cancer research results, what do you do? If you’re like most people, you’re tap-tap-tapping away on a device, looking for answers. Is it because the device itself is smarter? Of course not. But some say, yes it is.

We’ve stopped memorizing, stopped calculating, and there is less concrete info stored in the noggin. That’s a form of “Crystallized Intelligence.”

So obviously, this a loaded question. There are many moving parts, and I can’t possibly tackle them in one article. But I can give you some food for thought.

At the heart of it, the real question is not whether technology is dumbing us down, but whether we’re allowing technology to think for us. 

I don’t mean research, I mean actually think. Make decisions. Think critically. Develop ideas. Define our imagination. Are we relying on tech to perform these things which used to define us as uniquely human?

What do the experts say?

The opinions of these experts vary. Educators remark that in research, many college students allow technology to think for them, tailoring their conclusions to align with the professors’ political and social beliefs. They believe that dependence on technology changes the way people value intellectualism.

Science fiction author Isaac Asimov brought this to light when he said, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

John Donvan, a four time Emmy Award winner, is a longtime moderator of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates and former White House correspondent for ABC News. He hasn’t noticed a shift in critical thinking among debaters, whether due to technology or otherwise. People present good debates and bad debates. They use emotionalism, but in the end, truth and a well-presented argument always triumphs.

Journalist Charles Pierce, author of Idiot America, explained: “The rise of idiot America today represents–for profit mainly, but also and more cynically, for political advantage in the pursuit of power–the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. In the new media age, everybody is an expert.”

Therein lies the danger. Online, everybody is an expert. How can you know what’s true? Here on, it has always been my mission to help you use technology safely and effectively. With that said, if you don’t want to be dumbed down by technology – if you don’t want to go soft in the brain or get lazy – it’s up to you to do the work. When you’re researching something online, be sure to consider all sides with a mind willing to reason, analyze and above all, think critically.

Where do we go from here?

Nearly all the tools you need to learn are on the web. Never before have we had access to so much information, and yet at the same time, scholastic test results are not impressive. So, obviously, this article is just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully, it will spark some juicy discussions in your neck of the woods.

If you want to hear more, be sure to download the podcast. Listen to what the experts have to say. It’s thought provoking and informative – a good use of your brain and your time!

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