Internet Makes Smart People Smarter, Dumb People Dumber

Or so claims Kevin Drum, writing for Mother Jones, and using his attempt to Google the price of milk as a supporting anecdote. The theory (that the internet increases “cognitive inequality”) has yet to be tested via scientific study, but, does it ring true?

Moral of the story: the internet makes dumb people dumber and smart people smarter. If you don’t know how to use it, or don’t have the background to ask the right questions, you’ll end up with a head full of nonsense. But if you do know how to use it, it’s an endless wealth of information. Just as globalization and de-unionization have been major drivers of the growth of income inequality over the past few decades, the internet is now a major driver of the growth of cognitive inequality. Caveat emptor.

34 Comments on "Internet Makes Smart People Smarter, Dumb People Dumber"

  1. Anarchy Pony | Feb 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm |

    Sounds plausible enough.

  2. “Internet Makes Smart People Smarter, Dumb People Dumber.”

    Just like moderate recreational drug use.

  3. What he says about Wolfram Alpha isn’t true. If you type in “price of milk”, you get exactly the information the author was looking for. I don’t know what search term he used, but I feel like he is supporting his speculation by providing the results that he does. 

  4. Mr Willow | Feb 21, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    It doesn’t help that the internet is constantly being tailored to only provide any one person with information that aligns with that person’s beliefs, filtering out information that they would find disagreeable. 

    http://disinfo.com/2011/05/what-google-and-facebook-are-hiding/

    • chinagreenelvis | Feb 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm |

      Ah, but the smartest of the smart consistently question even those sources that support their predispositions.

      • Mr Willow | Feb 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm |

        And the dumb will be driven to be ever dumber because they constantly receive information that supports and reïnforces a flawed paradigm or false idea. 

        • chinagreenelvis | Feb 22, 2012 at 6:28 pm |

          Yeah, pretty much. This is why Facebook is consistently plastered with photos of ragged-looking puppy dogs and claims that sharing the photo will magically cause donations to be made to some imaginary cause… and the pictures have tens of thousands of shares.

    • Liquidself | Feb 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm |

       Quite interesting.  I ve been thinking along similar lines myself.  Marketing narrowcasting may be reinforcing a given person’s ego; enhancing the “center of the universe” kind of belief.  MMO s are quite instructive here – possibly the total marketing vector.  Perhaps the singularity is simply each individual believing they are the singularity, effectively isolating and containing them.  But this isn t new, just purer. 

  5. chinagreenelvis | Feb 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm |

    Information is the nature of the Internet. The Web is so full of both kinds – factual and false – that stupid people who lack critical thinking skills absorb the false kind and thus become repeaters of inaccuracy while the smart ones who question everything filter the information that comes to them and have an easier time sorting out the truth from the lies. Stupid people get their heads filled with more stupidity, and smart people become more educated.

    • Liquidself | Feb 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm |

       Now i m actually wondering if this is even remotely new.  Surely it worked before the internet the same way?

      • emperorreagan | Feb 22, 2012 at 8:16 am |

        It used to take more effort to obtain information – you had to go to the library or pay over a thousand bucks for a set of new encyclopedias and other reference materials.   

        The sources of information were also more standardized.  Someone had to be willing to publish the material.  A library had to be willing to purchase it.

        Now, there’s a wide range of information available for free, so the cost of entry is pretty low.  Couple that with the nature of the information – no one is editing or curating all of the information you can readily access for you anymore.  It comes down to the individual’s ability to cross-reference material, determine the credibility of the source, and otherwise discern the value of  the information.

        In the past – 
        Information was generally curated for people to lead them to a certain conclusion.
        Your primary source for information on vaccines, for instance, would be the doctor, brochures in a doctor’s office, perhaps the news, and if you were particularly curious maybe the article in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

        Now –
        One’s critical thinking ability is required to parse the information and draw a conclusion.
        The internet presents information ranging from peer-reviewed scientific articles to the delusions of a celebrity playmate.  You have to spot the fallacies in a dubious argument and fact-check without any guidance. 

  6. Tchoutoye | Feb 21, 2012 at 4:23 pm |

    It depends on how you define smart and dumb. I think it would be more accurate to say that the internet makes smart people more informed and dumb people less informed.

  7. What is this thing called m-i-l-k…?

  8. DeepCough | Feb 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm |

    I smart. I can haz cheezburger because I is a winrar.

  9. Does it also make smart people less talkative? 

  10. it’s an epic struggle between 9gag and wikipedia

  11. Or you could go to a local grocery delivery site.  But that would earn you the author’s dunce cap.

  12. i belevies in de reptilian in da bak in obmass head

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