5 ways the Internet has changed how we think

Confederacy of dunces?

Google has an answer for almost anything. Any remarkable slice of information, any essay on a mind-boggling multitude of subjects. Facts about bats, about countries, about politics and philosophy. Facts about why a certain thing smells a certain way. Why your toes are all tingly.

It has the answers so you don’t have to. And it’s making your brain atrophy, like the ill-used muscles of a bed bound athlete.

Well, sort of.

The Internet is making us a different kind of stupid. Google’s own mission statement is to curate all the information in the world. To take everything from our collective conscience, humanity’s greatest and not-so-great works, and store it for us all. All you’ll have to do is remember how to access it.

Humans know we can’t fit all that information into our brains, even though they are far and away the best super-computing devices in the known universe. So we share the burden of memory. Particularly in close relationships. You remember where the account details are and he remembers where the password to your online phone bill. Or some variation of the two.

But studies show we’ve jettisoned the use of family and friends in this respect for the convenience of Google.

So Google hasn’t destroyed our brains or rotted them to the core. It has, however, changed what we remember. We no longer remember the ‘what’ (what’s the capital of Brunei?) but the ‘how’ (how can I quickly find out what the capital to Brunei is?).


1. You can get information quicker, so your attention span is shot.

A four-year-old child can find out in 0.15 seconds what it used to take a grown adult weeks of research in a library to achieve.

0.15 seconds. Sometimes even quicker.

And with such unbridled speed, our minds have also turned into jittery bundles of energy flitting from one parcel of information to the next. Parcel, not cargo container. Concentration? What’s that? Wait, let’s go here. Now there. What about that link? Sure thing.

You can scan 10 links and cherry-pick just enough detail from all of them to form a thin sheath of knowledge in 30 seconds.

Nothing is really in depth any more because our minds are rewiring. We want to know a little bit about everything but don’t have the patience to stick it out.

2. We’ve become a society of ‘Power Browsers’.

Part of the efficiency of the net has changed the way we read, in real life as well as on a web page. Heavy Internet users are becoming ‘power browsers’. Think of it as extreme reading. Speed reading on performance enhancers. Who has time for any exhaustive deep analysis when there are more web pages than any human could ever get through in a lifetime?







Can we be too connected to information?






3. Our memories are all about access.

The more we outsource information to something else (Google, your partner and so on) the less recall we have in our memory bank. But our ability to learn how and where to get that information grows stronger. So it’s a different kind of smart. Too bad if civilisation ended, however, and took out the Internet…

4. The net makes us multi-taskers, which doesn’t help us in ‘real life’.

Tests conducted at Stanford University’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab between heavy multitaskers and those who rarely multitasked revealed something surprising. Those who were constantly on the go and juggling multiple tasks at once performed poorly on a battery of cognitive tests. The researchers had thought they might have gained some ‘unique mental function or advantage’ but there was nothing. Zip. They were less able to determine what information was useful and what was trivial, distracted more often and were in possession of an attention span worthy of a two-year-old.

5. But … we’ve never been smarter.

It’s the power of cloud intelligence. We might not individually know more today than we did 50 years ago but we’ve never had access to more knowledge. The Internet did for our collective intelligence what the printing press did last millennium but with about one thousand times the potency. Soon enough we’ll all have access to the bulk of the world’s information anywhere we go, whenever we want. Our brains might not know enough on the hop to win the case of beer at pub trivia, but we’ll certainly be very good at getting the answer quick enough on our phones. How we then sort through that information and analyse it is, ultimately, up to us.

How has the Internet changed the way you think, read or access information? Have you noticed you habits changing because of it?


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