It’s an argument that raises itself at least a couple of times a year for the past while now; that is that the internet and other technologies are making children less intelligent than they have been in the past. But it seems that this argument is brought on by those that don’t understand the new role that technology is playing in children’s lives rather than there being any actual “loss” in intelligence across generations.
It’s an argument that I find particularly interesting. For start, I think it’s complete and utter nonsense, but just raising that sort of thinking as a discussion topic does bring questions of just how we gather, use and retain information within our every day lives.
What it immediately identifies are the strengths that the human mind has and places them next to the strengths that technology and the internet has. This should, ideally, create a situation where we could easily see how we can utilise the former for the benefit of the latter. Sadly it would seem that this isn’t the case.
My trawling around the internet earlier seemed to suggest that most science people believe that a human brain holds somewhere in the order of 3Gb of information (based on certain assumptions about how cells in the brain store information as well as trying to quantify something organic like that with a digital measurement…but it’s a decent starting point, at least). To put that in perspective, that’s about 6 Blu-Ray movies or the size of my “media” hard-drive on the desktop PC. When you consider everything that happens within a person’s life, that’s really not a lot.
When you consider the amount of information that’s out there on the internet then it really does just about pale into insignificance. But this is exactly the point.
The power of the human mind is about the amount of information it can store. No. It’s about how it processes that information. It’s about our ability to comprehend, understand, analyse and evaluate all this information – in massive amounts coming from all our senses – that shows the true power of the human mind.
We have inside our heads a processor that we are not even close to being able to replicate synthetically. Which brings us to the internet and technology.
We all know that computers are pretty damn awesome at mathematics and all things related to numbers. But, at the moment anyway, they’re not very good at comprehension and evaluation. But what the invention (and popularisation) of the internet has delivered us is a resource through which we can access vast volumes of information and data that would have been otherwise inaccessible to us.
So what does all this have to do with the perceived intelligence
levels of children? Well, quite a bit actually.
The advent of all this new technology and easier to access information has changed the way that us people handle data. It has resulted in a world where we do tend to remember less – I know that I, for one, fail dismally at remembering phone numbers and addresses. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re becoming less intelligent.
Technology and the internet are instead ushering in a new era where the qualification of intelligence will not about the retention of facts but more about how skilfully a person can locate, process and evaluate information gathered from a variety of sources quickly and accurately rather than one where facts and figures are recited after being memorised from a book.
The simple fact of the matter is, is that technology has put us in a position where we just don’t have to remember information any more. Now, don’t confuse this for not have to have common sense. These are not the same thing. But not being able to remember a phone number or even when Captain Cook first landed in Botany Bay (29 April 1770) or even some mathematics isn’t a bad thing. Intelligence comes from being able to find the correct answer using all means available to you.
That, will be the true sign in intelligence, not memorisation of facts out of a book.