Real life vs. Web life: Is the Internet making us stupid?

Lindsay McComb / Posted 3.22.2011

The Shallows: Is web use making us stupid?

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we find information upon it.”

-Samuel Johnson

Recently I’ve been worrying that the Internet is making me stupid.

I just finished reading this book called The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains, by Nicholas Carr. The progress was slow and not all that steady, giving me reason to believe that maybe I no longer have the brain power or fortitude to read a real book any more. I spend so much time online that I fear my web life has become my real life. Technology has rotted my mind.

A large part of what it means to be human, argues Carr, is our capacity for “deep reading.” Concentration. A sustained, unbroken attention to a single static object. The Internet works against that in every possible way. But is that making is stupid?

Going online forces us to use cursory reading and superficial learning. We’re hurried and distracted, hopping from search to search and link to link. An endless stream of visual stimulation – we’re always looking for that next fix, that next interruption.

Flexing our mental muscles

While I’ve been utterly fascinated by the idea of brain plasticity, that every new medium has shaped the human mind’s capacity for understanding and communication, part of me is worried that I’ve let the Internet get too much in my head, let me become too scatter-brained, too saturated in superficial information.

Even as I sit here writing this article I’m doing everything I can to not check my email, update Twitter, and scan an article on GOOD.

I can focus. It’s just… I don’t want to. I crave information. Carr contends that the Internet is not making us stupider, but rather, it’s reshaping our brains and exercising our mental muscles like crazy. Our brains are stimulated from all the information input that we crave more. We want our fix.

Finding a balance

I have Fridays off of work. I spent last Friday reading a novel. An entire novel. Clearly the Internet has not ruined my capacity to deep-read as some evidence presented by Carr suggests. I think it’s just difficult to slog through a non-fiction book in any format. The Shallows is a fascinating, albeit difficult read.

And Carr admits, that the existence of the book is, in itself a bit ironic. While Carr used the Internet for research, he also had to shut down his Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, etc. for some time– he had to disconnect so that he could focus on writing.

Unfortunately The Shallows leaves me with more questions than answers. Are we getting stupider or just more distracted? Are we too reliant on computers for information? Are we substituting human wisdom for computerized knowledge? Are we allowing the frenziedness of technology into our souls?

Writing liberated us from a purely oral society. Printing made books available to the masses. Radio challenged the hierarchy of information. Television made media consumption passive. The Internet has made information accessible to everyone. Maybe too accessible.

We can’t blame the Internet for having too much information.

But can we blame ourselves for how we use it?

Lindsay McComb

Writer and Content Specialist

Lindsay is Q Digital Studio’s writer and content specialist. She develops heady technical jargon into clear, coherent (and optimized) content. She has a knack for finding just the right words - but only after she’s had a nice cup of coffee (or two). She happily dives into the depths of the Internet on a daily basis. Lindsay has worked as a writer and editor the world over.