Is the Internet really making us stupid?

These days I’m reading this really interesting book titled “The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains”.

Although I haven’t read much yet, the basic premise of the book is that the Internet has totally altered the way we consume and assimilate textual information. Very rapidly we are growing impatient and distracted and this shows the way we quickly browse through multiple pages without reading complete texts. There is too much information available, says the writer (Nicholas Carr was nominated for Pulitzer in 2011 for this book if I’m not mistaken), and this information is too easily available. Until just a couple of decades ago, if you wanted some data or some research information, you needed to sift through a ton of paper and books and you would normally spend weeks, even months reading reference material.

Now, you can just go to Google.com and look for the information you need. In fact, the writer has come across many people who have altogether stopped reading complete books. For instance, there is some university grantee who simply picks up relevant text from Google books and he hasn’t read a single complete book in the past five years.

Surprisingly, mine has been a slightly different case. Sure, I could have been more productive without all the distractions manifesting on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes, an unplanned thread begins and before I realise, two hours are gone. Sometimes a complete day goes by because distractions definitely take their toll. But on the other hand, I have little to complain because my business depends on the Internet, although not specifically on Twitter and Facebook.

Technology has helped me read more. I have never had a problem with reading long texts whether they are blog posts, detailed technical articles or political analysis. Reading it on computer and laptop used to be a problem so these days I make plenty of use of GetPocket. This is a bookmarking service and you can get a small add-on for your browser. Whenever I come across an article that I would like to read but cannot do so right now, I simply click the +Pocket button on my browser and the text-only version of the article is added to my GetPocket account that later on I can access on my tablet and read at leisure. This has tremendously augmented my reading.

Talking about my tablet. I have a Samsung Galaxy tab that now I have been using for more than a year to read books. Many people don’t recommend this, especially in the times of some excellent digital book readers like Kindle and Nook, I find my tablet more useful. Unless I’m hard pressed for work on a project, unless there is some other pressing need in the family, I normally spend around two hours everyday reading a book. The number of books I have read on my tablet in one year, I can safely say, has surpassed the number of books I must have read in the past 20 years.

Reading conventional paperbacks and hardcovers was always a problem for me. Since I can only use one hand, it was always difficult to keep the book open in front of me, especially when the fan was running overhead. Also, I couldn’t read a book while lying in bed. This I can do now. I no longer need to take care of the fluttering pages.

I also have this tendency to immediately look for the meaning of words that I don’t understand. Previously I used to keep a dictionary with me. These days, I use an Android version of dictionary.com and whenever I come across a word I don’t understand, I can easily look it up.

The greatest advantage of using digital books, at least for me, is that they are just a click away. I can easily purchase new books from my tablet itself. Previously I always had to depend on others when I needed a new book.

With Internet I feel smarter rather than stupid, to be frank. I believe people who are distracted would be distracted, Internet or no Internet. I often say, sometimes vainly, when some of my friends were whiling away their time downloading porn from the Internet or lurking in the chat forums, I was looking for online business opportunities. If it wasn’t the Internet, something else would have distracted them.

But the distraction let loose by the Internet and all the social networking websites cannot be underestimated, especially when esteemed writers like Zadie Smith have to use Internet blocking applications to keep them focused. So yes, there is a problem and sometimes this problem seems formidable, but since it is a part and parcel of our everyday life, we will have to learn to live with it. There are many people on Twitter and Facebook who are really stupid, but then I see equally stupid and dumber people on various TV debates. So stupidity and dumbness is not exclusive to the Internet. I will share more thoughts on this later on.