Intelligence Through the Internet?

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As I read Vannevar Bush’s article, As We May Think, it got me pondering about the whole of human knowledge—has the internet actually made people smarter than they used to be? Yes, the Internet does now encompass a significant amount of all of the information that we as a species have accumulated since the beginning and it’s never been easier to access before, but does that really say anything in terms of actual intelligence? The Internet has come a long way since the beginning. It was amazing reading the article, The World Wide Web and seeing just how far we’ve come since 1993. Nobody could have anticipated the rate of growth that the Internet would see since its meager beginnings as a tool for small-scale research and scientific collaboration.
Now it’s the year 2009. The Internet has woven itself into a hyper-complicated tapestry of information and collaboration spanning the globe. Even the people at CERN behind the very inception of the Internet could have never anticipated the growth it would see over the next few years, nevermind a decade and a half. It was funny reading about how in 1993 there was only one store on the Internet. Who could’ve seen the e-commerce boom of the late nineties coming?
But getting back to my point: the Internet is everywhere. It has crept into nearly every home in the world (at least in developed nations) and since the advent of the mobile web and wifi, it has begun to follow us everywhere. Does such easy access to the Internet say anything in terms of the overall intelligence of our generation? Has it made us lazy now that we have almost everything at a simple keystroke?
To me, it seems almost unfair to assume that the sheep herder from 1945 who knows everything imaginable about herding sheep: what kind of dogs work best, the psychology of sheep, the influence of the weather and so on, knows any less on a personal level than any member of our generation does now. Sure we’ve made much progress since 1945 and the cumulative pool of human knowledge has grown almost exponentially, but does easy access to it all really make us smarter? It’s arrogant to think that because of the privilege of higher technology and the time in which we live in, we’re literally smarter than our ancestors—but honestly, I think just that could be the case, as long as we take the initiative to take advantage of our situation amidst this ever-accessible wealth of knowledge and the unprecedented connectivity that the Internet entails.
What used to take hours of filing through books at a library or scanning reams of encyclopedia pages we can now do in seconds. With wireless Internet, bar debates can be settled in seconds flat. Never have we been more connected not only to the world, but to each other. Absorbing and spreading the knowledge that we now have access to shouldn’t be considered a privilege, but a responsibility. Not only do we owe this to ourselves, but we owe it to every member of every generation that follows—even the sheep herders.


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