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3 months ago

Does the internet make you smarter?

This bone of contention could just be given a yes or no answer. But we’ll look at it from different angles- the internet could make one smarter or it could have not much of a difference on one’s smartness. These two views come up because no phenomenon can have just one effect no matter its intended purpose for existence.  Answering the question of whether the internet makes us smarter requires us to define what it means to be smart or intelligent.

To be smart or intelligent as regarding this context is a combination of world knowledge with other skills and traits. Developed intelligence is a mix of knowledge, specific skills, emotional intelligence, logic, and mental training. The internet comes in somewhere in between to supplement or help form these different traits. Smart is most often used to describe someone who is intelligent and could mean other things like being improperly forward or bold. But here smart is 'characterized by quickness and ease in learning'.

The internet

The Internet is the greatest repository of information that the world has ever known. However, information is not the same as knowledge. Information is facts, numbers, theories, events, etc. What information alone doesn't do is reveal connections. That's what the human mind does.  Human beings never accumulated so much knowledge as they do today. The digital area made almost all knowledge quite accessible. In that sense, the internet is a tool to make people smarter. Any screen with a keyboard (computers, handhelds, laptops, etc.) and a search engine allow one to have access to the world's knowledge very easily via the internet; it has been argued that this is more efficient than the library and books. And it really isn’t a contest since it boils down to human preference or what works for one.  

To answer the question

As with anything that could make you smarter, the answer as to whether the internet makes you smarter is: it depends.

Traditionally, the way to actually get smarter was and is to participate long-term in a few of the special interest communities, reading books, personal research based on experiments and the likes. You get smarter when people around you are discussing a problem or topic in some detail, brainstorming solutions, throwing out ideas, etc. These were seemingly enough until the heyday of this culture seems to be passed. Even at that, there's still a lot to be learned by hanging out on the right forums.

In one vein, I can outrightly say the internet helps make people smarter in a way. The internet has almost all the information we need. In just a click we get answers to almost all of our questions in mind. It also helps widen our knowledge with all the data it has. Accessing the world's knowledge from something that fits in your pocket is a remarkable thing. The Internet has the potential to make all of us more knowledgeable. The internet * does* make you smarter: for the simple fact that *you * get to choose the content (unlike any other medium before the internet, TV, Print, etc.). For that simple reason, I would say that no matter what you are doing; at least you get to choose what you are watching, even if the youtube algorithm might have other ideas. And because you get to choose what you are watching, the internet will always make you smarter.

In another vein, the internet that is availed to everyone can have no positive effects on the smartness of many. Let's use books as an analogy. If all you read is *Twilight* and *Fifty Shades of Gray* over and over and over again, you're probably not going to get any smarter. (You very well might get dumber, in fact.) But if you're reading some sort of deeper material, whatever the genre might be, you're likely going to get smarter. The same goes for the internet; if you're using the internet to look at cat pictures and to watch videos of people falling down, you'll probably have a good laugh, but you won't get any smarter. (And, again, you're probably going to dumb yourself down.) But if you're using the internet to access its amazing wealth of information on any number of subjects, you're definitely going to get smarter.


Let’s buttress the above-painted pictures with this- knowledge is power as they say but only if the right application is followed through. Information comes to the tip of our memory; we can store, apply or discard it. What we do with the myriads of data availed to us on the internet determines how it affects our level of smartness or intelligence. An instance, ‘We all know how to lose weight, right? Eat healthy, exercise, pretty simple, yet we don’t all follow that.’ The internet doesn't innately make anyone smarter. However, if you choose to leverage the information you find to dig deeper into something that is important to you or that could make a difference for people, then it may, in fact, add to the category of what you know or what you know that you don't know. So the Internet can provide you the raw materials to make you smarter in the presence of one’s readiness to put in the work to retain and synthesize that information into useable knowledge.

For the internet to make one smarter, one should fall under the category of people that use it to visit reputable websites. Never before have we had such easy access to so much information and this is in the matter of a few seconds, you can find out how much Bitcoin costs or who the President was in 1932. However, there's a lot of false information in the mix on the Internet these days, one has to be careful and vet the sources information is gotten from.

Also, it can be argued that the internet and Google search are strengthening certain productive aspects of human nature and suppressing others. Typically, when we perform a google search outside of formal settings like work or school, it is because we are indulging a natural curiosity to fill a gap in our knowledge. The urge (and some might argue, need) to make informed decisions is productive behavior. On the other hand, Google search can heighten some of our worst and least productive impulses such as overconfidence and excessive reliance on a source of quick answers that are not necessarily complete or accurate. Additionally, Google search can reduce the likelihood that our decisions are well-researched because we tend to make the false assumption that the first page of results will give us all the information we need.

Having unprecedented access to information all over the world allows us to make informed decisions like never before. Information is constantly disseminated at a rate and level that allows us to challenge our perspective on any given topic and subject, challenges our comprehension, and tests our willingness and ability to discern the best sources of factual information. The internet can aid in our ability to learn new information through a variety of educational delivery methods thus increasing the likelihood of absorption. However, the internet does not inherently enhance our ability to integrate information and make original conclusions or form intuitive wisdom of our own. In other words, if you don't look for trusted sources or don't merge the internet information with the logical, analytical interpretation the data from the internet could mean nothing.

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Contributions from- Aaron Levy, Pratibha Vuppuluri, Shel Horowitz, DavidLynch, Lori Ramas, DaryMerckens, Julia Askin, Trent Hankinson, Shaan Patel, CaioBersot, Dane Kolbaba.




Anita O.

Lover of tech and blockchain.

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