Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hey Stoopid

Yes, I'm talking to you. Well, maybe not you particularly, but us. Perhaps because I use the internet as much as I do, my intelligence has fallen to the point where I can no longer spell. There's been a steady stream of research released over the past year or so that suggests that all the fancy gadgets we've all come to rely on are actually lowering our intelligence. Unfortunately for you and I according to an article appearing in the Atlantic Monthly, the author Nicholas Carr wonders if maybe the internet is draining our intelligence as well.

Now wait a sec. We all know that TV turns our brain to soup, but the internet? The world's knowledge at our fingertips could only increase our brain power one would think. While the article only seems to present anecdotal evidence, the theory could be backed up by a couple of other studies. Dr. Glenn Wilson conducted a survey of 1,100 people over 80 clinical trials respondents that showed that email users suffered an IQ drop of 10%. The lack of discipline in doing tasks leads to a compulsive need to answer each mail, which leads to a constant changing of direction of thinking which then tires the brain. The addictiveness of the behaviour and the loss of the powers of concentration was compared to a drug, specifically, it was worse for our brain than smoking marijuana.

That's more like it, of course smoking weed makes you dumb, or... According to a study done a few years back, the IQ of people who smoked more than five joints a week were shown to have fallen by 4.1 points. However, the same study pointed out that light users, under five spliffs a week, showed gains of 5.8 points. Hmmm. What else can make us dumb you ask? Well, being a racist apparently leads to an IQ score of about 4 points lower. If you want to be smart, don't be poor, avoid any kind of lead exposure, don't drink the water in most American cities, or for that matter, anywhere that adds fluoride to the water system. Lower cognition has also been linked to eating foods containing additives as this could shave about five points off your IQ. Cognitive decline has also been shown for those with higher BFI's (body fat indexes), as those who were a bit chunkier could recall less vocabulary than their thinner brethren (finally, an explanation for the Dubya re-election in 2004!). Studies have also linked pollution with lower IQ's among children as well as crying too much when you're a baby.

"The medium is the message" - Marshall McLuhan

So, it seems that most everything will slow our brains down, but we must ask ourselves, are these causal relationships or are they simply correlative? About a year ago, a similar article came out claiming that Blackberries were causing its users IQ's to drop about 10%. The same article lead me to the idea of "continuous partial attention". The idea being that being constantly turned on, not wanting to miss anything, doesn't allow us to focus on any one thing. But how much do we miss in this state? Try this:

Part of what is happening is that we are outsourcing much of our brains to google, our phones and pen drives, which could be a good thing, opening our minds up to other things, or bad, as we allow our brains to be shut down bit by bit like the computer HAL in 2001. As Mr. Carr points out Socrates feared the invention of the written word would cause people to stop using their heads and “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that Gutenberg's printing press and the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men "less studious" and weakening their minds. Regardless of whether we think our reliance on modern tools is good or bad, they are definitely changing the way we think.
Try this one (watch it to the end):


Michal said...

About that article you referred to about google making us incapable of absorption of larger volumes of writing(=stupid):
1. Some serious mindfuck is going on and that guy's got a point. While you old people can actually spot the process, I - a 18year old - have lived like that all my life. Right now I'm in the middle of reading that article(as it is unusually long), commenting your post, reading a wiki entry on something and checking my class forum. Pausing to think what to write here I change the tab and read on something else. I am completely chaotic in my actions. Come to think of it, no wonder why I couldn't put my thoughts together at my writing exam I had recently. We are doomed to become shallow processors of advertisements and lose the ability to brood, to see the abstract !
By the way, this can't be stopped. We would have to stop using internet.
2. you could actually make a use of the lore you collect and stop putting so many hyperlinks in the text;] footnotes are the way!

About the WWW as a whole - the process of observation changes the observer as well as the observed phenomenon. This principle can be very easily noticed in this situation.

;] I have seen this picture in Wolfenbuttel, Germany in a place called Pheno .

Shane said...

That article in the Atlantic is extremely long, even for an old guy like me, but it's a good read. Curse these firefox tabs, I too bounce around far too much. As for the hyperlinks, another curse of the net. I use them cuz I assume most people would never get to the end of my posts to see good old fashioned footnotes. Ah, the good old days.