I’m With Stupid: How The Internet Is Dumbing Down The Next Generation

I’m sure that many of us, not least of all those who make a living from it, can conceive of a world without the internet. For Generation Y, it has become the all encompassing font of easily accessible knowledge, entertainment and communication. Our lives have become enriched and transformed because of it and I for one don’t think I’ll ever get over the excitement of actively participating in this extraordinary adventure.

The fact that I don’t have to spend hours in the library, or work out complicated maths equations in my head or wait forever for important letters to arrive any more is still a thing of wonder. Like most of my peers, I tend not to take the internet for granted (not that much anyway) precisely because my generation did go to the library, do maths without a calculator and spent hours writing letters with an actual pen – we grew up learning these skills because there was no other way. You learnt your times table by rote and practised your neat handwriting again and again until you got it right, it’s what we all did.

I can still remember the shock of hearing that calculators were going to be allowed to be used in maths exams. An actual calculator! We could only dream of such technological assistance in my day, the thought of taking one in the exam room was literally unheard of. Yet last week, my 8 year old nephew was casually explaining how he uses an iPad at his school desk for almost every lesson and it struck me just what a massive part of his life the internet has become and that he’ll never really know what it’s like to have to go and physically search for information or – God forbid – have to wait days or weeks for answers to become available. It’s no wonder he has the attention span of a goldfish, everything is available to him right now, why on earth would he want to wait?

This depressing behaviour is summed up nicely in the infographic below where we can see just how young children are participating, or at least have access to online activities. At the age of just five, more than 50% of American children habitually use a computer or tablet device, while 95% of those aged 12 to 17 years regularly access the internet, spending more time online than their parents or teachers. 80% of American teens are active on social media.

Why should we care about how kids receive information these days? Because it affects everything, their future and ours. Attention spans are dropping and information overload is leading to a lack of comprehension of the deeper subject.  94% of US teachers confirm that students associate  “research” with trawling Google and other search engines with Wikipedia cited by 75% of teachers as a source for their material.  That’s all sorts of frightening. As is the fact that our world has changed forever and the children of today will shape our futures in the only way they know how to, the way we are currently teaching them to……



About Carla Marshall

Carla Marshall is Director of SEO at ReelSEO.com.

12 thoughts on “I’m With Stupid: How The Internet Is Dumbing Down The Next Generation

  1. I think it’s very easy for people of our generation to classify these effects internet usage has on people as ‘negative’, because it differs from what we would see as ‘proper’ behaviour.

    But as with the printing press before it (and radio, and television) the internet is a disruptive technology and many of the old standards will cease to apply.

    Technology has always served as an extension of human capabilities. We learn to remember less, as a quicker & more accurate ‘memory’ is just a Google search away. Is that a bad thing? Only if you consider memorisation of information to be a boon, and the ability to quickly find information as ‘cheating’.

    How do we know a short attention span is a bad thing in the modern world? Perhaps it’s an advantage, as it allows people to quickly switch between different modes of thought, and enables them to engage more effectively with the barrage of information they’re being bombarded with.

    The effect the internet is having on our brains – and as a result on our thought processes, and on our very society – are undeniably huge. If it’s for better or worse, well, I’m not sure. The arguments go both ways.

  2. I perceive this as a cognitive evolution and not necessarily negative.Our brains are learning to do things differently and will be better suited for different tasks.

  3. You know, I am not getting the fear. I don’t know how to cut a quill pen properly nor how to fill an inkwell — skills necessary for any literate person not so terribly long ago — and yet somehow I am muddling through. I was not, as were children in Mark Twain’s day, required to memorize long texts in order to recite at length and in public — another important skill at the time — but somehow this lack has not yet hindered my ability to proceed in the world.

    Is there some reason we should make herculean efforts to raise our children as though the world were different than it actually is? It is entertaining and sometimes enriching to have completely outdated skills — I can in fact bake a loaf of bread starting with nothing but seed grain (given enough time and some ground), and I can also butcher a hog, though I have never actually needed to do either. But the suggestions here (ironically presented in an infographic, who was it again with the low attention span?) seem to me to be guaranteed to do little good in practice. Selective cognizance leads to cognitive dissonance, and pretending that it isn’t there or that it isn’t cool strikes me as counterproductive at best.

    I also find it interesting that the alleged evidence for what students are doing and thinking, is what their teachers say they are doing and thinking. Of course kids associate research with Google and Wikipedia, this is only a problem for people who grew up associating research with the Encyclopedia Brittannica and the World Book Encyclopedia, depending on social status and region. I am not seeing a principled difference.

    I find it interesting that the exclusive support given for the statement “attention spans are gtting shorter” is a personal story about an 8 year old boy.* If one thing is clear from the research into attention span in humans, it is this: the results vary hugely based on very small changes in the testing environment at the time the test is taken.

    So if one really were concerned for the attention span of a child and wanted to do something about it in an evidence based way, it seems to me that the first thing to do would be to have a look at the environment in which the activities are taking place.

    The last sentence of this article is spot-on: we are teaching the wrong ways. Teaching is being done by people afraid of and themselves not fluent in the use of the developments you mention. This is certainly going to cause a problem, but as it always has it does right itself as time goes on.

    Hey. listen, the kids are all right. They have always been all right.

    * The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”; and 8 year old boys are not….noted in general for having a long attention span (having barely achieved the age of reason).

  4. For those who don’t see it as a negative I submit one question; what happens when the power goes out? The Internet is dumbing down society for no one knows how to do anything, they must google it. When your Internet is not working what is the first thought? Before you shout I’m an archaic remnant from a time before all information was available at a click of the mouse, I’m 24 years old in graduate school and would never dream of citing Wikipedia on any dissertation. Source material is a must so is print. Internet is fantastic but like all good things moderation. You can find any knowledge you could ever want to find, but the major draw back is you can only learn what you want to learn there is no browsing like with an encyclopedia. We need the internet but we need to keep the print alive!

  5. It goes way deeper then that but it takes too long to get into and I don’t even know half of it. Look up Agenda 21 and it’s not a new thing with many small parts of it already in place.

    Most of the world is owned only by a few rich families that are Trillionaires and we have companies owning companies owning companies that has caused progress to stall.

    Most of our technology since the Bush era is actually refurbished. When you buy a phone it is believe it or not being refurbished as *new*. Landlines in some cities were being ripped out in 2004.

  6. It’s not just kids either. I work with grown men in their 20’s and 30’s who spend their entire work week (and I can only assume a majority of their home time) playing cell phone video games like World of Warcraft, and Sumners Wars. Complete idiocy. Even though we have a cell phone policy on the job, these grown men risk their job and livelihood to orchestrate attacks and “level up” their characters while working. And when I dare to talk about anything which requires a brain cell, I’m ridiculed and compared to other “nerds” and “brainiacs.” A complete shame for the next generation. I really feel sorry for the families of these addicted gamers.

  7. Most recent high school graduates I talk with, I ask them ONE question. I ask them what the last book they’ve read on their own was, and not as a school assignment. The answer? Books? they ask. Who reads books anymore, they say! I’m too busy on Instagram and Snapchat they say. We are SCREWED. TPTB have succeeded in mind control…namely Google and Wikipedia. Control the doors of “truthful information and FACT, control the UNIVERSE. We are so headed for Orwellian’s futuristic dystopia, “1984”. That is the title to a BOOK, in case you Gen Y kids don’t know. Try reading one. Sheesh. Animal Farm. Anyone?

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