Experts Say Google Does Not Make Us Stupid

Last Updated Feb 23, 2010 11:04 AM EST

As one who routinely uses Google Search at least twenty times a day, I'm happy to report that the overwhelming majority of experts surveyed by the Pew Internet & American Life Project believe that using the search engine is making us smarter.

Whew!

In its survey of 895 experts released a few days ago, 76 percent agreed with this statement, "By 2020, people's use of the internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid."

In case you were stumbling over placing Nicholas Carr in your memory, he is the scholar who authored a cover story for the Atlantic Monthly magazine back in the summer of 2008 entitled "Is Google Making us Stupid?"

Carr's argument was based partially on his own behavior: because he found himself skimming and browsing content online, rather than reading it carefully, he said, "I'm not thinking the way I used to."

The Pew study aimed to test this general proposition as part of its fourth annual "Future of the Internet" survey. Many of the respondents are long-time experts who have participated in previous Pew surveys; others were recruited especially for this particular effort.

Here are a handful of the many interesting perspectives uncovered by the survey:

  • "Google allows us to be more creative in approaching problems and more integrative in our thinking. We spend less time trying to recall and more time generating solutions." (Paul Jones, University of North Carolina)
  • "I think that certain tasks will be 'offloaded' to Google or other Internet services rather than performed in the mind, especially remembering minor details. But really, that is a role that paper has taken over many centuries: did Gutenberg make us stupid? On the other hand, the Internet is likely to be front-and-centre in any developments related to improvements in neuroscience and human cognition research." (Dean Bubley, wireless industry consultant)
  • "It's a mistake to treat intelligence as an undifferentiated whole. No doubt we will become worse at doing some things ('more stupid') requiring rote memory of information that is now available though Google. But with this capacity freed, we may (and probably will) be capable of more advanced integration and evaluation of information ('more intelligent')." (Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada)
This concept of the shifting nature of our intelligence strikes me as highly relevant in this age when we are transforming the way we go about acquiring information. When you think about it, we are adapting to the Internet, and in many ways, it is adapting to us.

Thanks to Google, and other smart search engines, we are letting go of some of the behaviors that suited us better in a time of information scarcity, and embracing habits that work better in our new information environment.

That seems to me to be the bottom line that comes through load and clear from the great majority of thinkers who participated in this survey. To read the whole thing for yourself, please visit here.

  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.