Monday, October 27, 2008

Is the Internet making us stupid?

It seems a lot of people are asking this question lately. A recent edition of Popular Mechanics suggested that humans are possibly becoming more stupid because of Google. Because Google makes everything so much easier - researching data, collating it and delivering it almost instantaneously, it's taking away our ability to really think and use our problem solving processes in our brains. Its kind of like exercise, if we don’t exercise enough our bodies turn to fat and are less agile and healthy – same for the brain. I think the older generation of digital immigrants are better able to cope with this, because their brains were brought up reading and having to think more, lesser so the younger generation of today. It's a hot topic because a real neuroscientist has just written a book called IBrain: Surviving the Technological alteration of the Modern Mind. Gary Small contends that all the Internet searching and text messaging has made millennial brains particularly adept at filtering information and making snap decisions, however the tech savvy, or digital natives as we know them, seem to be less capable of reading faces or picking up on subtle gestures, so traditional communications skills are being adversely impacted. Of course there are solutions to this, but nonetheless it does make one wonder what the generation of kids today who generally don’t read books, prefer to have conversations in cyberspace than face to face, expert at playing computer games, posting on FaceBook and fiddling with Mixit are going to contribute to the world as adults. Are we producing a future generation of digital innovators or will they all be dummed down having lost the human touch and instinct that makes for great business people and creators? It’s a big question and one we still wont know the real answer for in a while. Yes, the Internet it seems is the cause for some woes this week. The Internet is now being implicated as a major contributor to the global financial meltdown. According to Paul Kedrosky in the latest edition of Newsweek - who by the way has a great blog called Infectious Greed, the Internet has broadly delivered on its promise to bring information to the masses, however in so doing has opened up financial markets and sophisticated instruments to Joe Soap and allowed many credit innovations to be launched at hyper speed, connecting millions of speculators and wannabe investors in a dangerous and unregulated manner. He suggests that instead of causing a financial crisis, next time around the Internet needs to be part of the solution. Well I hope there isn’t a next time around, cause we haven’t even begin to feel the real impact of this time around. It made me think that the Google guys may have had to hire extra bodyguards. If Anna Wintour Editor in Chief of Vogue has to have some to protect her against he anti-fir activists, then its not inconceivable they will need to be protected against desperately indebted novice (and even skilled) ex-traders, hedge fund managers, bankers, speculators, pensioners, et al who have lost bilions. Ah.. just imagine if it was that simple to pin the world's greed and stupidity on virtual reality?

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