Too much Google is mak­ing us dumb

All that in­ces­sant read­ing on the In­ter­net could scat­ter our minds, lessen our fo­cus, and di­min­ish our ap­ti­tude.

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WARN­ING! Read­ing this ar­ti­cle on­line could lead to stu­pid­ity. But not be­cause I’ve writ­ten some­thing that might cause you to lose more brain cells than you nor­mally would on any given day. I’m not that clever. The only way I can make you “less clever” is by keep­ing you on­line for as long as pos­si­ble.

When you read text on­line, there’s a good chance you’ll be ex­posed to a num­ber of dis­trac­tions at the same time. Th­ese usu­ally come in the form of hy­per­text links, ban­ners, videos, tabs, pop- up ads, and side­bars teem­ing with “good­ies”, all of which vie for your at­ten­tion.

I’m sure you know how ir­ri­tat­ing it can be when you’re in the middle of read­ing some­thing, only to have, say, a pop- up sud­denly ap­pear on your com­puter screen.

“Grrr! I don’t want to sign up for your stupid news­let­ter,” you say through clenched teeth, as you strug­gle to get rid of the un­wanted in­vi­ta­tion.

One minute later, just as you’ve picked up where you left off, a video em­bed­ded on the site turns it­self on unan­nounced, shattering the si­lence and scar­ing the be­je­sus out of you. If you’re lucky, your flail­ing arms won’t knock over the sear­ing hot mug of coffee on your desk, straight onto your lap.

Once you’ve fin­ished read­ing your on­line piece, you might be se­duced into mov­ing on to some­thing else, and then some­thing else again ...

As you hop, skip and jump your way across the In­ter­net, you might stop to read some­thing about the state of Don­ald Trump’s hair, fol­lowed by an op- ed on cli­mate change, and then a piece about mon­keys driv­ing a wheel­chair us­ing just their thoughts. Be­fore you know what’s hap­pen­ing, you’re read­ing some­thing about a Ja­panese com­pany that can scan and print a statue of your ges­tat­ing foe­tus, which causes you to segue onto an on­line fo­rum about the moral is­sues as­so­ci­ated with us­ing ge­netic pro­fil­ing to de­ter­mine an em­bryo’s gen­der. Phew! If you stop to think about it, you might say to your­self, “Wow! That’s a lot of stuff in an hour. The In­ter­net is in­cred­i­bly use­ful. If I keep this up, I’ll soon be a real smarty pants.”

Sorry to have to burst your bub­ble, but you’d be way off the mark. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port, “tech­nol­ogy is in­duc­ing an in­tel­lec­tual de­cay in our brains.”

Sounds like some­thing you’d hear in a zom­bie movie.

Sim­ply put, the In­ter­net is caus­ing parts of your brain to shrivel up and die, I think. I can’t be 100% sure, be­cause I’m pos­si­bly suf­fer­ing from brain dam­age my­self.

Let me try to ex­plain. When you’re read­ing some­thing on the In­ter­net, say, the piece about the state of Don­ald Trumps hair, and you keep get­ting dis­tracted by on­line links, much of the in­for­ma­tion you’re at­tempt­ing to di­gest about hair fol­li­cles, comb- overs, and Don­ald’s ir­ra­tional fear of nee­dles be­comes more and more frag­mented with each in­ter­rup­tion.

If your long- term mem­ory at­tempts to ab­sorb any of this, it will prob­a­bly be a jum­ble of bits and pieces of in­for­ma­tion from dif­fer­ent sources: Don­ald Trump is mar­ried to a hair fol­li­cle and has a wheel­chair that can be driven by a tele­pathic fe­male em­bryo. Your brain won’t be able to store this in­for­ma­tion in a mean­ing­ful way or con­nect it to many other ex­ist­ing mem­o­ries, so it sim­ply dis­ap­pears into the ether.

Ac­cord­ing to the ex­pert re­spon­si­ble for the re­port, “We be­come mind­less con­sumers of data.”

Even when the on­line text you are read- ing con­tains some­thing as un­ob­tru­sive as a short hyperlink con­nect­ing you to, say, an ear­lier re­port about Don­ald’s wife, your brain will say some­thing like: “Hmm ... do I want to look at that af­ter I’m done here?” This de­ci­sion is made so quickly you might not even be aware of it. How­ever, even this minute dis­trac­tion is enough to in­ter­fere with your as­sim­i­la­tion of the facts sur­round­ing the state of the wannabe Pres­i­dent’s hair. And if there are a num­ber of hy­per­links on the same page ( lead­ing to sto­ries about his busi­ness deal­ings, and the shares he owns in a hair­spray com­pany) you might as well say good­bye to the pos­si­bil­ity of re­tain­ing most of that in­for­ma­tion over the long- term.

“But how does that make me stupid?” I hear you ask­ing just about now. “It’s okay to read stuff like that and for­get it next week, be­cause it’s mostly read for its en­ter­tain­ment value, any­way. Even se­ri­ous news doesn’t need to be re­mem­bered – I can al­ways Google the facts, if I ever need them in the fu­ture.” Now comes the scary bit. The depth and scope of hu­man in­tel­li­gence is based on our long- term mem­ory. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, “Cre­ativ­ity re­quires en­gag­ing our long- term fac­ul­ties, in or­der to cre­ate new neu­ral path­ways and as­so­ci­a­tions. By read­ing in­ces­santly on the In­ter­net, we scat­ter our minds, lessen our fo­cus, and di­min­ish our ap­ti­tude.”

Too much Google is mak­ing us dumb, but there is a so­lu­tion: down­load ar­ti­cles for off­line read­ing, and re­move any dis­tract­ing links. Also turn off your phone when you’re read­ing.

If it’s al­ready too late for you, and you’re now as dumb as brick, you can al­ways run for Pres­i­dent.

Tech­nol­ogy can in­duce in­tel­lec­tual de­cay when we be­come mind­less con­sumers of data.

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