An online survey of 895 Web users and experts found more than three-quarters believe the Internet will make people smarter in the next 10 years, according to results released on Friday.
Most of the respondents also said the Internet would improve reading and writing by 2020, according to the study, conducted by the Imagining the Internet Centre at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life project.
“Three out of four experts said our use of the Internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the Internet has improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge,” said study co-author Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Centre. But 21 percent said the Internet would have the opposite effect and could even lower the IQs of some who use it a lot. “There are still many people … who are critics of the impact of Google, Wikipedia and other online tools,” she said. The Web-based survey gathered opinions from scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers, along with Internet users screened by the authors. Of the 895 people surveyed, 371 were considered “experts.” It was prompted in part by an August 2008 cover story in the Atlantic Monthly by technology writer Nicholas Carr headlined: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Carr suggested in the article that heavy use of the Web was chipping away at users' capacity for concentration and deep thinking.
Carr, who participated in the survey, told the authors he still agreed with the piece. “What the 'Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence,” Carr said in a release accompanying the study. “The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.” But Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said, “People are already using Google as an adjunct to their own memory. “For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support and Google comes through for me,” he said in the release. The survey also found that 42 percent of experts believed that anonymous online activity would be “sharply curtailed” by 2020, thanks to tighter security and identification systems, while 55 percent thought it would still be relatively easy to browse the Internet anonymously in 10 years.