YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is technology making
( downes.ca) is
researcher specializing in teaching
and learning with
digital media and
technology at the
Council of Canada.
is a professor of
creative thinking at
in the Toronto area
and a co-author of
the paper The Brain
in Your Pocket.
TO UNDERSTAND the ways digital technology, such as smartphones, is making us smarter, let’s examine how it is making us less intelligent.
• A study from Dartmouth College says, “Using digital platforms such as
tablets and laptops for reading may make you more inclined to focus on concrete
details rather than interpreting information more abstractly.”
This is because when we use digital technology to communicate with people around the world, we realize that few generalizations are actually true, and
we’re less inclined to leap to them.
• The journal ACM Transactions on the web reports that we tend to scan
digital media rather than read articles from beginning to end.
This means we are reading more e;ciently. Instead of simply consuming
content, we are making judgments as we read. Because reading takes so much
less e;ort, we can look at many things and focus on the ones we want.
• Digital media encourages multitasking; a UCLA study tells us multitasking makes it more di;cult to learn and remember.
Becoming better at multitasking makes us better able to adapt and thrive
in a complex environment. Learning isn’t simply about consuming content
and remembering it; it’s about developing the skill to keep one’s eyes and ears
open and to recognize and react instantly, even if we’re doing something else.
• Our use of technology is changing our brains so that we become less deep
and contemplative when we use digital media, says journalist Nicholas Carr,
who has written a book on the subject.
This is called “plasticity” and is one of the key advantages humans have
over animals, which must rely on instinct. Instead of simply learning by
remembering, we learn to learn quickly and e;ciently.
Yes, we think and learn di;erently when we use digital technology. But we
become less set in our ways, able to adapt to changing information and better
able to make judgments. These are all ways of being smarter, not less able. C
MY COLLEAGUES and I conducted research to see what sorts of thinkers are
most prone to rely on the internet as an extended mind. We found that people
who are lazier in their thinking and are lower in cognitive ability use search
engines more often than their more analytic and intelligent counterparts.
Such a habit might seem to result in smarter people—those less able to
reason e;ectively are o;oading their thinking to the internet rather than
relying on their brains for incorrect answers. Decades of reasoning research
show that although some people are lazier thinkers than others, we all tend to
be lazy in our thinking to save time and energy. So is it the case that we all can
be smarter by relying on the internet more?
The problem with this logic is that online content is often inaccurate. Fake
news, clickbait and other false information abound on the internet, and the
sheer volume of content can make it hard to separate fact from ;ction.
Given that the people who more frequently rely on the internet as an
extended mind are less re;ective and less intelligent, those who are least capable of assessing whether information is valid are being exposed most often to
incorrect information. And although some are more susceptible than others,
our collective disposition to limit e;ortful thought means that none of us are
immune to the perils of misinformation online.
Furthermore, it is still unclear whether increasingly using technology to
do our thinking dulls our own ability to remember, reason and pay attention.
To reap the bene;ts of technology, we cannot mindlessly rely on the internet for information; we must think hard about the content we consume and
share. At the very least we can ask ourselves: Who posted this? What quali;es
them to know what they are talking about? And we should then take a little
time to get di;erent views, both online and from people in the real world.
Although the internet isn’t making us smarter, it has the potential to, if we use
it more intelligently. C
Are online vacation rental
services a good thing?
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