WEB & TECH / JUN. 08, 2015
version 6, draft 6

Is the Internet Destroying Our Intellect?

Is the Internet eviscerating our mental capacity, our intelligence, our ability to think?

Think about this situation: you’re with your friends discussing United States President Richard M. Nixon and none of you can agree on what Nixon’s middle name was. Someone shouts out Milton, while some else utters Middleton. Instead of using the power of your mind and persuasion, you simply take out your smartphone and search on Google for Nixon’s middle name, which was Milhous.

See Also: 5 Ways the Internet Could Be Killing You

These instances are very common in today’s world. Instead of thinking about questions that plague people’s minds, they just go onto the Internet and spend a couple of seconds finding the answer. It can be anything from the cast of a motion picture to the year the first Sherlock Holmes story was published.

One author conceded in an article in The Atlantic that he feels as if his mind is changing. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, wrote:

"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think."

Carr went on to write that he can mostly feel this modification when he reads. Years ago, he could get lost in the pages of narrative and prose, but now his concentration wanes and his mind searches for something else to do.

Side effects of the Internet

Although the Internet is quite convenient and helpful, many posit that it’s eroding our memories and inserting endless distractions which also diminish our attention spans. Scientists say that the Internet and all of the gadgets we possess and cherish are deteriorating what makes us human.

Rather than sitting and waiting for our friends, we whip out our smartphones and browse the web. Instead of being with our thoughts on the bus, we check our Facebook. And the biggest offender: ignoring our friends and family in person in order to play with our mobile devices.

You may be thinking: "Sure, it could be destroying our social skills, but we have a greater abundance of knowledge than ever before." This may be true, but your ability to remember such vital data is making its gradual exit. Did you ever hear of the term "generation effect"? It means we better understand and retain answers we have discovered ourselves instead of ones we’ve read about or, in today’s case, searched for on Google or Bing.

One experiment was conducted in the U.S. whereby half a class of students was permitted to use Internet-connected laptops during a lecture, while the other half had to have their computers shut off. The result: those with the computers performed worse than those without. Why? Because they had browsed the Internet to find answers throughout the lecture.

You may now be pondering: "OK, but at least I’m healthy." Not exactly. The Internet and technology are making you less active – playing videogames, perusing social media, and ordering stuff online – and this is attributable to a decline in mental health. Exercise improves brain health.

What’s the solution?

As we reported last month, our attention spans are now lower than that of goldfish and have fallen by a few seconds since the year 2000. Whether it’s a matter of causation or coincidence, it’s interesting that our Internet connectivity has greatly enhanced over the past 15 years.

Although it’s very unlikely to occur, the only solution to this mental, emotional and social decay is to change our behaviors when it comes to the Internet. We should be reading more books, playing board games with our family, and using our brain power to remember pieces of information.

How will our children and grandchildren behave in the future? Will they fail at finding locations without smartphones and tablets? Will they be unable to sit quietly at a restaurant without some sort of electronic device? Will they only be able to perform math equations with the assistance of Google? These are just some of the logical questions we have to ask about the future generations.

If we don’t act soon, then it may be near impossible to finish a 400-page novel, play a game of chess or to just sit patiently. One study found that people would be rather doing something, even hurting themselves, than sitting doing nothing or being with their own thoughts.

That is sad.

See Also: Study: Internet Searches Causing Us to Think We’re Smarter Than We Really Are

Like anything else, the Internet is just a tool, and it’s how humans utilize such tools that matters. The Internet is an amazing function of our day-to-day lives. It’s nearly impossible to even conceive of a world without the Internet, despite its just 20-year existence. Perhaps the Internet itself isn’t destroying our inherent abilities, but the way we use the World Wide Web is.

Maybe declining cognitive functions is the price we pay for progress.

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