Is Internet Dumbing Us?

See Genesis, Chapter 11, Verses 1-9.The Realtor told us to make the basement look bigger by removing the dozens of boxes we had already packed and stacked down there. Her command voice compelled obedience, and so I got some much-needed exercise last night lugging our boxed belongings out to the garage. It worked, too. The basement does look bigger. But, then, everything looks bigger when you’ve collapsed from exhaustion on the floor.

The heaviest boxes were the ones containing books. At first I was grateful that our culture, as a whole, had updated from cuneiform, but after a bit — as heat and fatigue began to ravage my mind — I wondered if that was such a good thing after all. I wondered if there was some correlation between the actual weight of the medium and the accumulation of knowledge. Had all those books increased the power of my brain in proportion to their physical weight? Certainly that would explain the great, unequaled wisdom of the ancient sages who set down their arcana on stone and clay and sheep. Well, the skin of the sheep, anyhow.

Likewise, it explains the giddiness of Modern Man (I deliberately exclude Modern Woman, who is not giddy at all) whose fleeting thoughts are recorded on nothing more substantial than bits of paper. Paper that yellows and decays; that can burn or tear; that can become mildewed and worm-eaten; that can scatter in a breeze.

On the other hand, I thought as the humidity climbed from 65% to 70%, paper in mass is still weightier than all of the information it bears when that data is converted into gigabytes, or even terabytes, of ones and zeroes. The entire collection of books I staggered under would fit, when digitized, in my pocket. If the relation of smarts to weight held true, then we Internet users might be in big trouble. The question in the title of Nicholas Carr’s recent essay in The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” could be answered, “Well, duh, yeah!”

Personal experience bears this out. Back in High School, when I hunched under the load of many a volume of forgotten lore, I was very nearly as brainy as you, dear Reader. But now, in this time when I get my news from the Web and read my books on my PDA… well, all I can say is I laffs at Spongebob Squarepants.

Who doesn't?

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