Does the Internet Make Us Stupid?

Does Google make us stupid? That particular question almost became viral when tech scholar and analyst Nicholas Carr wrote a cover story with that cover line for Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 2008. The Pew Research Center decided to do a study asking experts the validity of this claim and others. I think you’ll find the results intriguing.

Funny, last year my 15-year-old son asked me, “Dad, when you were a kid, what search engine did you use to…”

I interrupted him. “Alec, when I was a kid there WAS NO internet.”

His eyes grew as big as saucers. “What?!!”

After pondering how my son had possibly missed this fact for 15 years of his life, I continued. “Yes, when I was a kid, Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet. We actually had to go to libraries!”

It’s funny to think about life before the internet. I remember in the early 90′s when a buddy of mine first showed me this thing I had been hearing about called the World Wide Web. I remember the first time browsing AOL, searching “Alta Vista” and hearing a computerized voice declare, “You’ve got mail!”

Ah… those were the days.

So the question is: after almost two decades of the internet, are we smarter, or dumber?

The quick answer is “smarter,” according to new research from Pew Internet & American Life Project (I subscribe to their emails- The Pew Research Center does great surveys and studies). This web-based survey gathered opinions from prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers.

Here’s just a snippet from their findings:

  • Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence
  • Two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and rendering of knowledge
  • Google won’t make us stupid: 76% of these experts agreed with the statement, “By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices.”

You can read the whole summary here.

My two cents:
After hearing years of criticism of the internet, I found it interesting to hear the majority of these “experts” vote in favor of it.

I find it funny how some people seem to want to label the internet either all bad, or all good. This kind of polar thinking is nonsensical. That’s like proclaiming that all automobiles are bad when your child is struck by a car. Yes, people sometimes drive drunk and kill people. Used tires, hydrocarbons… I’m sure the list goes on. But next time you buy a basket of strawberries in Pennsylvania in January, ask yourself, “Where did this strawberry come from?” (Its journey involved a big diesel truck, I promise you) And consider families visiting each other across state lines. Or call a car bad when you need a 30 mile drive to a hospital, stat! Both good and bad has resulted from the invention of the automobile. 

Such is true with the internet. Sure, the internet offers plenty of ways for people to get into trouble. But personally, I can attest to doors God has opened to do incredible ministry through the internet. God has helped our ministry at www.TheSource4YM.com provide free resources for parents and youth workers around the world for a decade now. If someone needs free youth ministry training, they can just click a button. We could not have done this ministry in 1980.

We get regular emails from across the globe of people who have used our free ministry resources to make an eternal impact in teenagers in their community. Think about that. I write a Bible study or a sermon and hit a button that says POST. Five minutes later a youth worker in the Philiippines downloads it and leads someone to Christ or helps a group of teenagers grow in their faith.

The internet brings both good and bad. And if you’ve been on my blog even a few times, you’ll see that I’m a huge advocate of helping parents teach discernment and create boundaries with the internet just like they would any other media source (I blogged about that just yesterday with the new #1 Black Eyed Peas song). But they can also use it for learning, building community and even growing spiritually. As I write this blog, my son is 12 feet from me on another computer logged into his youth group’s blog, adding comments to something his youth pastor shared with the group online.

Hmmmmm.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over a dozen books including the new Get Your Teenager Talking, The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager, and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation, and the 10-Minute Talks series. Jonathan speaks and trains at conferences, churches and events across North America, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three teenagers Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
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One Response to Does the Internet Make Us Stupid?

  1. Trazy says:

    Jonathan,
    it’s funny that you say these things. I often encountered kids not understanding that I didn’t have an email address until I got to high school and even then, it was only accessed 2 or 3 times a week at the most… at a public library! My parents didn’t get internet in their home until I had finished college! So when kids complained about getting their home internet privileges taken away, it was like I was an alien when I explained these things!

    and then, when I got to Hungary, one of the directors here noted : “When I first went overseas, we had to actually write letters… instead of hopping on Skype, to talk to friends and family back home.”

    It’s such a useful tool, but at the same time, I miss those days of researching things the “old fashioned way” and have hardly received any mail while here. It adds a whole new appreciation to someone taking the time to actually write a note or card :)