How the Internet is Making You Stupid

How the Internet is Making You Stupid


You’re reading an article online. An email pops up, you follow the link to YouTube, think it’s funny and share it on Facebook. You then spend 20 minutes commenting on other people’s stuff and, hours later, you’ve fallen down the Internet rabbit-hole and achieved nothing.

Here’s the worst part: The instant access and distraction of the Internet is actually making us stupid. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, explains that the Internet is an information rich environment that encourages compulsive behaviour like checking smartphones, glancing at the inbox, and living in a perpetual state of distraction and interruption.

So why is it making you dumber? This mode of thinking actually crowds out focused, contemplative thinking — which is how we learn. Learning happens through memory consolidation — when information is transferred from your short-term memory to your long-term memory, building up knowledge.

Let’s say you’ve just had the king of ideas. It’s sitting in your short-term memory waiting to be contemplated. But you hear an email bing, and your parked brilliant idea is replaced by a grumpy cat. And it’s gone.

So what if it’s all on Google anyway? If we lose control of our attention, or are constantly dividing our attention, we never get around to the consolidation process and learn new things.

While useful, the Internet can rob us of thinking conceptually, critically and creatively, hamstringing the building of knowledge.

So, the best thing we can do is to find time every day to unplug and focus on doing just one thing at a time. Your email and those cats can wait.

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Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.
  • Jim Campbell

    I do not believe that we should condemn the Internet for the reasons cited above. Whilst one should be careful about accepting without question what is published.
    As a technical journalist I find the internet a very useful source of information, and it is certainly quicker than ploughing through printed resources, if these are in fact available.
    Long live the internet, but use it with caution!

    • Robleighville

      I don’t think you read the article properly bud. They are not condemning the internet, but the availability of it to the point that before your mind can think constantly for a period of time, it is distracted by the ping of an email or something else. read it again. I completely agree. It is scary how you can sometimes lose hours in a row just doing nothing and all of a sudden you cant remember what it is you were actually doing…