Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Internet Is Making Us Smarter & More Divided


Suppose it were possible to aggregate all the different types of human intelligence and knowledge together, and take an average level of the population. I wonder, is social media making us, on average, a smarter nation or is it having a diminishing effect?
 
No doubt it is enhancing many people, and making others far more susceptible to nonsense - which is why I ask about average smartness. I am not totally sure that the Internet is making us smarter, but I am fairly sure it is - and I can posit a few considerations that may make this clearer by looking at what the Internet is doing:

(Disclaimer: Bear in mind below, when I use words like 'intelligent' and 'foolish' I have factored in that these things are a bit of a mixed bag inside many minds)

1) The Internet in many ways makes intelligent, knowledgeable people more intelligent and more knowledgeable, by giving them greater access to other people's knowledge and intelligence.

2) The Internet in many ways makes foolish people more intelligent and more knowledgeable, by giving them greater access to other people's knowledge and intelligence.

3) The Internet in many ways reinforces foolish people's views and beliefs, by giving them greater access to other foolish people's poor reasoning and bad ideas with which they already agree.

4) The Internet in many ways introduces additional foolish views and beliefs to already foolish people, by giving them people greater access to other foolish people's poor reasoning and bad ideas.

Numbers 1 and 2 are having a positive effect on humans' average smartness, whereas numbers 3 and 4 are having a negative effect on humans' average smartness. So which has more weight - the positive or the negative?

People genuinely looking for facts and truths now have better access to what more and more people believe and have greater access to what different people believe from both sides of the debate. We can find facts and arguments quicker, which increases the amount of things we can find out

Visual processing and syntax absorption is greater, and experts are far more accessible than ever before. Once upon a time, if you wanted to digest expert knowledge, you had to buy their books or attend their lectures. Nowadays, thousands of professionals in their fields offer daily insights for free, on blogs, in videos, or in printed essays. You can even read books for free in PDF form.

Given the foregoing, I think it is difficult to deny that the Internet is making us smarter on average. But one other thing may be true: the Internet appears to produce more hostility and insults than face to face social interactions - so it is probably widening the gulf between both sides, and leaving many people more averse to their opponents than before the conversations started.

On a slightly different but not wholly unrelated topic, after the recent cancellation of the hideous The Jeremy Kyle Show, following the death of a guest, a lot of people have been saying that vacuous programmes like Jeremy Kyle's show - along with shows like Made in Chelsea, Towie, Big Brother and other celebrity reality shows, and magazines covering the lifestyles of half-witted pop icons and pin-ups - have increasing popularity because we as a nation must be getting more vacuous too.

I'm not so sure this is true - maybe the opposite is true; maybe the vacuity has become so popular not because we are getting dumber, but actually because, as a weighted average of the nation, we are all getting smarter, more knowledgeable and more academically gifted. If you think about consumable products in terms of the usual economic course - an increase of something (oil, gas, timber) causes its price to go down not up, and this may apply to vacuity too - it is commanding a higher price because it is in shorter supply than ever before, especially as it's now more accessible than ever before. A quick feel of the nation's pulse doesn't lead me to intuitively believe this is true - but it just might be.










 

 

 

 


/>