Does the Internet Make You Smarter?

In the history of print, we got erotic novels 100 years before we got
scientific journals, and complaints about distraction have been
rampant; no less a beneficiary of the printing press than Martin Luther
complained, “The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure
of limit to this fever for writing.” Edgar Allan Poe, writing during
another surge in publishing, concluded, “The enormous multiplication of
books in every branch of knowledge is one of the greatest evils of this
age; since it presents one of the most serious obstacles to the
acquisition of correct information.”

The response to distraction,
then as now, was social structure. Reading is an unnatural act; we are
no more evolved to read books than we are to use computers. Literate
societies become literate by investing extraordinary resources, every
year, training children to read. Now it’s our turn to figure out what
response we need to shape our use of digital tools. —Clay Shirky

The essay does not really answer the question in the headline, but that’s a problem with the headline, not the essay.  It’s paired with Nicholas Carr’s essay, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?

I’ve been lamenting the fact that I have to put more energy into teaching my students about the importance of peer review, and why I am really serious when I ask them to start with academic sources, rather than write a personal essay and then “look for quotes” just before handing it in. I wish I had used this tidbit (from the pro-internet Shirky) in the classes I just finished teaching:

[T]he essential insight of the scientific revolution was peer review,
the idea that science was a collaborative effort that included the
feedback and participation of others. Peer review was a cultural
institution that took the printing press for granted as a means of
distributing research quickly and widely, but added the kind of cultural
constraints that made it valuable.

We are living through a
similar explosion of publishing capability today, where digital media
link over a billion people into the same network.

Another tidbit:

[T]he cumulative time devoted to creating Wikipedia, something like 100
million hours of human thought, is expended by Americans every weekend,
just watching ads. It only takes a fractional shift in the direction of
participation to create remarkable new educational resources.

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