Jun 12

A new article in The Atlantic claims that Google is making us stupid. The article doesn’t blame only Google, of course. Rather, it believes the World Wide Web, TV and movies are dumbing down humanity. We are actually reading more than in the 1970’s, but instead of novels and newspapers, we are consuming snippets of information from a myriad of Web sites. The article claims we are becoming a society of Internet zombies.

The Net seems to be “chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

The irony of the Atlantic article is that it’s too long for me to read. Honestly, the article proved its central point simply by its existence. As I discuss in my article, “Can you Digg it? 7 Tips for Bloggers Working with Social News Sites,” most Web surfers have short attention spans, given how easy it is to “change the channel” on the Web. So articles need to be short and direct.

Bite size portions, less is more: this is the recipe for our increasingly ADD-addled brains.

I agree that the Web is contributing to shorter attention spans overall. But contrary to the Atlantic article’s claims, I believe:

Google and instant access to the world’s collective knowledge has made me smarter.

Whenever I want to know something, the answer is usually just a few mouse clicks away. During the normal course of the day, I learn so much about so many different topics that would otherwise be inaccessible without the Web.

In the “old days,” if there’s something I didn’t know, I’d have to visit the library, consult an encyclopedia (remember those?) or find an expert. Which for most topics meant that I simply went on with my life without knowing the answers. Now with the Web, in seconds I can consult the world’s experts on nearly any subject, plus usually find a community, reviews, dissenting opinions, products and solutions.

With the Web, the world is truly at our fingertips. And that’s a good thing.

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Article published on June 12, 2008

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6 Responses to “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”

  1. Laura Says:

    I totally agree about learning new things. I have found that when I look up something, or read an article, I end up clicking on the links in the answer and by the time I am done, I have learned even more about related subjects and I have spent 30+ minutes on the computer.

    I semi agree with the attention span theory, but I think it more relates to the age of the user. I have found that the older the user is (45+) they tend to spend more time on their computer reading about a subject and will look for more information. I think it is because we grew up getting our information from newspapers and magazines. Users under 30 generally have a shorter attention span. They grew up with a computer in their homes, 24-hour cable news, cell phones, etc…, and are used to “instant gratification”.

    In my opinion people who are in the 30-45 age group fall into a grey area. It totally depends on how they were raised. I did not get a home computer until 1992. I was also one of the first people among my “Geek” friends to have a computer at home. However, I came from a Technology savvy family. My father had purchased/leased an IBM 360 for his business in 1967. It totally fascinated me that a gigantic machine that had to have its own office, would do the work that I used to do by hand after school and on weekends. I was hooked! My Dad wrote all the programs that would help him run his business more efficiently. Later we used it for payroll, job costing, purchasing, etc…

    Using my children as an example, they are 36 and 32 years old now. At that time I purchased my first computer (1992), my youngest was 16 and my oldest was out in the world working and going to school. They were more interested in playing Nintendo, than checking out the computer. To this day, they are both avid readers of books, newspapers, and magazines. They take after me when looking up info on a computer and tend to seek out more information than they intended to look for in the beginning, resulting in an average of 30+ minutes on the computer.

    I do have to say that the people in that age group that I work with have attention spans that are at one extreme or the other. Very few fall into the mid-range. I find that the ones who have the most “toys” have the shortest attention spans. They also have computers and TV in their bedrooms growing up and of course a cell phone. The people whose parents could not afford to do that and had only one “family” computer and a TV in the living room had longer attention spans and were the ones who brought books to read on their break and chose not to play a game on the computer.

    We did a survey of the employees on our teams. We were having a problem with them not retaining the information they learned in the different classes for new products, customer service protocol, and different procedures. Normally 80% of the class information was provided as reading material. We found if we put that information into a Power Point presentation that they would have access to after the class, they would do better on their tests and would retain that information. We passed the information along to the different departments in the company and they changed their class materials to Power Point presentations too. We incorporated it into the classes our customers would attend. Not only did they get a class booklet but also a CD with the presentation to take home with them. We found through customer surveys that the customers gave a higher satisfaction rating for each class overall.

    Now we get to my 4-year-old Grandson. He is already reading and writing at kindergarten level. He loves my (our) computer and has all his own icons to his websites. His attention span is amazing when he gets on the computer. I do have to admit that he is also a normal 4 year old and if he is overtired, he has no attention span period, no matter what he is doing. He will spend hours when he finds something he is interested in on the computer. He spent a whole day playing a game called Patchworkz, which is an online game at Bigfishgames.com. My computer is in my bedroom and I kept checking to see if he was okay because he was so quiet and would only leave if he had to go to the bathroom or wanted more juice. He also decided to write down his score for each level, so I wrote the level numbers on a small legal pad and he wrote his score when he completed each level.

    My daughter and I were very amazed, he made it to level 133 and had 2,252,100 points! I only had to help him on 2 puzzles because they contained very tiny pieces and if you did not get them in their exact spot, they would disappear. And, I had to do print screens of the cool puzzles he liked and his high scores so we could print the 15 pages out when he was done. He finally had enough at 9 pm that night, so he had played for almost 12 hours straight, except for bathroom, munchies, and juice breaks! I allow only “sippy” cups when he is on computer, munchies have to be eaten at the table. Needless to say, he was exhausted and totally crashed when he was done.

    So to summarize, in my opinion a person’s attention span is determined by the environment in which they are raised. It not only applies to the computer, but all areas of their lives. Parents today have a tendency to diagnose their children if they have a short attention span and say they have ADD. I do not think it is an accurate diagnosis. The problem lays in lack of time they spent/spend with their child at an early age, playing games, reading books, or building a tower out of Lego’s. Today’s parent is in a constant state of stress and exhaustion. In order to survive both parents have to work. Between work, dropping off and picking kids up at school or day care and after school activities, they barely have enough time for themselves. This explains all the screaming, naughty, children at restaurants and stores. There has to be a way to prioritize a parent’s time so they are able to teach their children patience at an early age, which will result in a longer attention span. This will also help them with their schoolwork, social situations, and life in general.

  2. Irishman Says:

    I was educated as an engineer and many of our tests 20+ years ago were open book or open note because the key equations and values that we needed were so important that it was foolish to leave them to memory.

    The internet is the open book of real life. I don’t need to remember anything as I know I can find it with a quick search. I am not more stupid, I simply don’t remember anything.

  3. Mario Says:

    The short attention span idea, or not being able to dive in a subject in the classic academic way is just that: a nostalgy of the only way to learn we had until now. Imo is much more productive to learn a miriad of things driven *by own interest* that diving in a tome of calculus for months struggling to get some concepts out that will be quickly forgotten in most cases, and also is more alike the natural way of learning.

    Some kids I know that are tagged with ADD do have a perfect concentration over things that they interest them most.

    Anyway I prefer ppl learning by interest to ppl forced to dive in a complex subject the usual way. You need interest first to make learning productive and Internet pokes your interest in a lot of things you would never have thought before.

  4. Tony Says:

    You are not going to reinvent the Wheel…. are you? It is the situation to start putting the inventions in action and built up on those inventions… (If you think you know what wheel is…)

  5. seoMetuzalem Says:

    i also agree that more information cant make us more stupid. the point is that we can choose from topics we’re more interested in. and the greatest thing is that you can learn really a lot of some subject from the sources of all around the world. 🙂

  6. Gnoll's Poison - Page 5 - DotA Forums Says:

    […] devotion to balance that sacrifices creativity to it turns me off to 4e. Also, the catering to the Is google making us stoopid? generation who don't care to spend time on a slow-paced game means that one could get the same […]

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