Thread: [Discussion] Is the internet making us dumber?
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Old March 27th, 2013, 12:51 PM
Kanzler
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Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Toronto
Age: 20
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I disagree. Having such a massive source of information that is interconnected through hyperlinks allows a person to easily create a web of associations. When I read a chemistry textbook, I learn about each reaction in a chapter. On the internet, I can find many examples of how these reactions are used in real life, and concrete examples about how one can be combined with another to synthesize a product. It's a proven fact that people learn better when they make meaningful connections between what they're learning versus rote memorization. If you learn from a textbook, you have to expend a lot of effort creating those connections from almost scratch, although I'll admit that would be an extremely valuable skill. The internet helps you make those connections much faster and more completely. There comes a time when you're developing an expertise in a certain subject when you start to feel like you get the big picture - but when you started it felt like you only had discrete concepts that didn't seem to fit with one another. The more you learn, the more clearer that picture becomes. The internet can help us accomplish that. You're not relying on technology per se, it's more of a force multiplier in terms of your learning ability. It's only something we rely on because of its immense utility that we could potentially lose. The higher we rise, the harder we fall, but we wouldn't be less than we would be without the internet.

For instance, I figured out what nutrition and working out was all about through the internet. No university course could cover such a wide range of material, and you even have 12 or so weeks to learn it. If all I had were books, I wouldn't know where to begin. You have to deal with metabolism, and basic chemistry to understand that; kinesiology, and basic anatomy to understand that; and then you'll have to use experiential knowledge to give yourself a context to understand your own health and fitness state. The internet allows you to quickly segue between one subject and the next - this benefits your learning because it's more likely the two thoughts you're trying to connect will still be in your working memory than when let's say, there's a 1 minute delay when you're moving from one book to the next, and looking through the index etc. vs Google.

That being said, the internet wouldn't help you develop critical thinking skills in itself, although it allows you to exercise it and improve it through practice. People who believe everything they read on the internet are probably the same people who unwittingly accept the opinions of the media, friends, colleagues and family. It gives people more opportunity to do/say/express something stupid, but it shouldn't make people dumber than they began.

The calculator example is interesting. For people who will specialize and become experts in math it's not a bad thing at all if you can't compute in your head, because you will be dealing with much more complicated concepts and you most likely have a calculator at your disposal anyways. For your average joe that wants to quickly estimate the cost of this week's shopping list at the grocery store, mental math is much more relevant.
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