Kevin Drum wrote an article last year in Mother Jones wherein he argued that
…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. (Drum, 2012)
On the flip side, Ryan Avent suggests that the Internet may be an equalizer of cognitive fortitude:
The more I rely on the same cloud brain that’s available to anyone else, the less the strengths or weaknesses of my meat brain may matter. (Avent, 2012)
As we make the Internet, to what extent does the Internet makes us? Are we creating the network in our own image… is the network transforming us into its likeness? If we are going to speculate on the cognitive-equity consequences of the Internet, the question of reciprocal causation is paramount.
To highlight nature of this reciprocal evolution, consider how much our lives have changed since 1993:
So has the Internet broadened the gap between the smart and the dumb? Has it increased our overall level of cognition by equalizing and democratizing access to information? As with most human technologies, the answer seems to be: depends on the user.
As the famous little epigram goes,
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and little minds discuss people. (Mouat, 1953)
The technical contribution of the Internet is the capacity to make all types of discussions broader and more accessible. The Internet is a digital amplification of human nature. Its transformative influence on the cognitive landscape of society is inseparable from the agendas and cognition of those who leverage it.
- Drum, Kevin. (2012). The Internet Is a Major Driver of the Growth of Cognitive Inequality. Mother Jones. Feb. 17, 2012
- Avent, Ryan. (2012). Cognitive inequality. Economist Blog. Feb 23, 2012.
- Mouat, Lawrence Henry. (1953). A Guide to Effective Public Speaking. Heath. p. 51.