Random Inspirations

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Is the Information Age Making Us Smarter…Or Dumber?

on April 21, 2014

Information has never been cheaper and easier to access than today. Years ago, we researched topics by opening up a thick, heavy encyclopedia (Remember those?!) or checking a non-fiction book out of the library. Today, all we have to do is Google a topic, and seconds later, we have Wikipedia, news articles, blog posts, and even non-fiction eBooks right there in front of us!

I know Google helps me immensely as a writer when I’m doing the beginning stages of my research. And when I’m driving, I never get lost any more, thanks to Google maps on my android phone.

I could go on and on about all the ways that the online info explosion has made my life easier and more efficient, but this weekend I saw that it definitely has its downside, too: The ability to Google anything and everything has actually made us less confident in our ability to recall information that we already know. 

Antonio and I were driving, and even though he knew how to get to our destination, he looked it up on Google maps anyway. This was partly as a force of habit, partly because we wanted to make sure we were taking the best route, but mostly because we suddenly doubted our ability to find the destination even though we’d been nearby before. At that instant, we realized that we, like most people, had become too dependent on the online info explosion–so much that we sometimes doubt what we already know!

The ability to Google everything can not only make us less confident, it can make us just plain dumber, too. For example, I’ve heard elementary school kids say things like, “Why do I need to learn the multiplication tables? I can just Google them.” When I was in pharmacy school, one of my classmates complained about having to memorize the dosage regimens and side effects of over-the-counter products because “we can just Google them or look them up on the back of the box.” The problem is, many times you’ll need that information faster than you can get to your phone and Google it. When I worked as a pharmacist, for example, I had to know the answers to my patients’ drug questions off the top of my head. Sure, sometimes I’d research an obscure herbal interaction or something like that, but for the most part, I needed that info in my head, and I needed it quick…for professionalism’s sake, as well as for patient care. And can you imagine how disastrous it would be to be dependent on Google for the multiplication tables? You wouldn’t even be able to figure out the tip at a restaurant!

The wealth of online info is great, but only when it supplements your brain, not takes over it! Image courtesy of pjitm.com

The wealth of online info is great, but only when it supplements your brain, not takes over it! Image courtesy of pjitm.com

It’s obvious from the above anecdotes that  becoming too dependent on our smartphones and computers for information can be a really bad thing, making us less confident and dumber. But obviously, this doesn’t mean we have to eschew technology and sit there memorizing reams of useless information, either. I think we can all strike a happy medium between the inefficient old way of doing things and the information fast-food that we’re being served up today. Here’s how:

  • Be discerning – Be a connoisseur of information. As we all know, not all info we find online is created equal. If you’re using online resources for research, make sure you’re citing reputable resources.
  • Be confident –  You already know a lot–own it! Don’t doubt what you already know. If you need a refresher on a topic, by all means Google it, but don’t make a habit of second-guessing yourself. The information age should make us smarter and more confident; it should never erode our confidence.
  • Don’t be lazy – Don’t be like the pharmacy school classmate or the kid who doesn’t want to memorize the multiplication tables. There’s some info that you just have to store away in your brain. Laziness about learning is a surefire way to atrophy your brain.
  • Read – I recommend reading a lot on my blog, and not just because I’m a writer and avid reader. Reading keeps our minds engaged and ever-evolving. Knowing a little about many different topics makes us more interesting and enlightened people, and reading is the perfect way to get there.

Do you think the information age is making us smarter, dumber, or both in different ways? Do you ever find yourself Googling something you already know, or learning less than you should because the internet is at your fingertips? I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experiences!

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2 responses to “Is the Information Age Making Us Smarter…Or Dumber?

  1. Definitely pros and cons to life in the internet age. Another example is school’s doing away with teaching handwriting in script. Nobody really needs that anymore, but it makes you wonder how much hand-brain development could be lost there.
    However, I read constantly online now, when about 15 years ago I got most of my news watching television. I read more now than ever and believe that might be true for a lot of people.

  2. All true, Jason! I would say that I also read more now because of all the info available online.

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