August 27th, 2013


Thinking thoughts

I saw an article today titled "Is Google making us stupid?" I didn't bother to read, I knew what it would say, more or less. I've seen lots of articles like it. Our attention spans are shorter. Our brains are somehow weaker. We think less or communicate less or whatever it is they're worrying about.

There is a little science behind some of this, one can measure things like the average length of phone calls (dropping) or the average number of short texts (rising) and draw conclusions about how we're failing to meaningfully communicate and we're getting dumber, less able, less capable.

I think that's utter nonsense.

We're just getting different.

If I store some of my knowledge externally (on Wikipedia or Google) and only retain the knowledge of how to retrieve it, not the facts themselves, that does sound a little bit weird. Depending on something outside my own brain to remember for me! That's bad, right? What if the connection goes down, suddenly I'm dumb?

Yes and what if your car breaks down and you can't get to the grocery store. Suddenly you'll starve to death! Only not. problems like that are temporary, true stranding away from our technology is a once in a million thing, and if it happens I will have more to worry about than my inability to look up when the Battle of Waterloo too place!

Humanity has depended on things outside of their own minds and bodies since the first cave man banged rocks together to make fire, or chipped out the first stone tool. And our use of tools have always changed us, changed how we think and act, changed what we know.

You could tell a hunter-gatherer that someday her descendants would have no idea what things in the forest were edible and what were poisonous, and couldn't use a spear to hunt their own food, or cure hides to make their own clothing, or build a shelter, and that person would be horrified at how dumb, less able, and less capable the modern man is. Yet the modern man can do things that our ancestors could only dream of. We FLY man! We've been to the moon! We're going even further than that someday. We feed billions of people on a planet that couldn't possibly feed a tenth that number if we lived the way that hunter-gatherer did, and those are just a few of our modern miracles.

We are smarter and more capable than we've ever been, and we're only getting better. They have re-adjust the IQ test every so often, because every generation gets a little smarter than the one before. If you score as "average" IQ now, you are brighter and more intelligent than people who were considered well above average a hundred years ago.

And yes, when you drop a modern man into a hunter-gatherer survival situation, they tend to die. And if you take a connected modern man of the new external-storage generation away from their internet connection, they're a little bit stupider in some ways than they'd be if they'd been raised without Google and Wikipedia and so on, but so what? So what! I don't live my life with the goal of being able to survive a once in a million problem. I live my life to get the most out of it that I can.

Technology is changing us, but I don't think it's for the worse. I think it's for the better. I look forward to the even more radical changes that are to come!

This entry was originally posted at