Is the Internet Making us Stupid? (SOS VideoClass N°4)

The internet has dramatically changed the way we interact, discover and learn. Although it is difficult to predict to what extent our society will change because of (or rather: ‘thanks to’) the internet, one thing is clear: we are only at the beginning of it.

I got my inspiration for this SOS Videoclass by reading the 2008 Atlantic article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?‘ by Nicholas Carr.  If you lack the time to read his article, make sure you catch the following quote:

Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.

Nicholas Carr

So without further ado, here is the fourth SOS VideoClass. Again, the video is in Dutch (with my own Flemish accent ;-)) and you will find the English transcript below.

What is Intelligence?

It looks as though we can only handle information in a superficial and fast manner ever since the internet went mainstream. We are constantly interrupted by Facebook messages, chats and emails. And when we finally do achieve to read something in depth on the internet we are interrupted by ads and videos. It looks as if the internet was designed to make us stupid.

But what is smart and what is stupid? If we define intelligence as the processing of difficult information, the creation of a lengthy analysis or performing a complex calculation, then the internet may not be the ideal instrument.

Hang on, because there is also social intelligence. For example: the skill to bring different intelligent people together and to make them collaborate on something new. That is where the internet proves to be very useful today.

The New Train?

On the fifth of May 1835 the first train was riding through Belgium. At that time nobody could predict that this train would trigger a whole new era of the Industrial Revolution. It was the leverage for our economy.

Today – in 2010 – we are facing a similar pivotal moment. The internet is leveraging our new economy in the same way the train leveraged our old economy.

However, this ‘new’ economy is a digital economy, and that’s the problem. The digital economy has bypassed the traditional economy in the mean time. That’s very frightening to those who want to protect their knowledge.

The Illusion of Control

Being smart still matters, but you need to be intelligent in a different way: you need to be socially intelligent. That’s not so simple, because it means that we need to let go of what made us big in the Industrial Revolution: control.

It is precisely the extent to which we can let go of control that will determine how successful we will be in the new digital economy.

(end of transcript)

Endnote: A New Beginning

When approach technology with a closed and controlling mind the ever accelerating pace of it will only drive us deeper in despair.

I am very much in favor of Kevin Kelly‘s approach to technology, i.e.: the Pro-Action approach. According to Kelly we have to use new things in order to find out about them. We have to engage with technology. The only way we can determine whether something is good for us or bad for us is through use.

My call to action therefore is to let go of the illusion of control by adding a social layer to intelligence as we know it. Letting go of control requires us to add social intelligence to our limited shelflife intellectual intelligence.

  • Walter

    Hi Luc,

    Good article, comes to the essence of doing business I guess.
    Remember: “Logic makes people think and reflect, but it is emotions that make people act” it is not different in the digital age. Social Intelligence plays in the emotions part, and therefore I could not agree more to your statements.
    The public internet however provides a whole new set of capabilities to do business and we have now discovered maybe the first 2 (web2.0) or so generations of business models.
    I was very interested and pleased with the initiative from Robin Smith;
    demonstrating another step in a business opportunity as an outcome of doing business over the internet.
    I expect many more of these opportunities to see the light soon. Identifying/ going after these opportunities is probably where the bigger future business goes. We should always keep in mind that an Internet opportunity is by definition global and as such is large in scale.

    Again thanks for the good contribution.