Does the Internet Make Us Stupid?

Nicholas Carr made a splash last summer with his  Is Google Making Us Stupid? article in the Atlantic. Jamais Cascio wrote the first decent response a year later – Get Smarter.

What do you think? Is the web a mental prosthetic which expands the power of our minds or has it obliterated our ability to read long texts?

Which author makes the most compelling case? What if they’re both right? How could we reconcile their views? I’ve outlined  Cascio’s argument and will outline Carr’s soon. This should be helpful: Future of Humanity: A Map of the Conversation. You may also want to browse the discussion Cascio and Carr spurred in the blogosphere.

NOTE: this post will be updated soon.

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3 Reasons to Subscribe

  1. Stay nimble. Benefit from the insights of university students who won the Digital Literacy Contest. Absorb their frame of mind.
  2. Improve your skills. Learn how to find, evaluate and synthesize information online better. Learn the specific tools and techniques contest winners use.
  3. Leverage the web. The internet is a mental prosthetic. Learn how to use it to amplify the power of your mind.

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How to Win the Digital Literacy Contest

Digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information online. In our Digital Literacy Contest students compete to answer questions using the Internet an library databases. These questions come in five categories. Study the websites listed below to improve your chances of winning greatly.

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GNIC’s Vision

We’re outsoucing parts of our brain to the Internet. GNIC is built upon this fact.

How does this change intelligence? What’s relevant now is how well you use the Internet as a mental prosthesis – how well you can use it to amplify the power of your mind. We call this “networked-intelligence,” and we create competitions in which people use the Internet as an extension of their brain.

Why? As technological changes accelerate large groups of people are left behind. Others are super-empowered which threatens our democracy. We use our contests to find the brightest of our generation. Then we spread their insights (on this blog, in educational curriculum, in workshops, essay contests, etc.) to help maintain a (relative) equality of skills.

Our first competition is the Digital Literacy Contest. We market it to libraries, but any institution could host the event to engage an audience and create positive publicity. Our second competition is funded by a MacArthur Young Innovator award with further help from the Sunlight Foundation. It’s targeted to high school social studies classes.

Related reading:

(2009) Get Smarter by Jamais Cascio
(2008) Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr
(2007) Your Outboard Brain Knows All by Clive Thompson
(1962) Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework by Douglas Engelbert

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Vision of the Future: Apoptygma Berzerk & the Animatrix

What does the far future of intelligence look like? This video is one of the better artistic interpretations I’ve seen.

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Digital Literacy Contests this fall

Student registering for the Digital Literacy Contest at the University of Florida

We’re organizing and promoting nine DLCs this fall. Daniel will be couchsurfing around North America and speaking at each contest.

  • University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (10/6/09)
  • University of Florida (10/8/09)
  • Pennsylvania State University (10/13/09)
  • Western Illinois University (10/22/09)
  • Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (four different campuses):
    • Palliser (10/27/09)
    • Kelsey (10/28/09)
    • Woodland (10/29/09)
    • Wascana (11/3/09)

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Participation Camp – Cool People & Resources

I went to Participation Camp this weekend — my first unconference:

Democracy is a game in which we all make the rules.  How do we make this  serious game more inclusive, more fair, and more fun?

Participation Camp will provide the spark for an explosion of sharing, experimentation, and collaboration around this question…

Went to two great workshops:

  • Twitter & Iran – Discussion with 15+ uber geeks who are in the heart of the Iran/Twitter situation. What are technologists’ role in foreign affairs? How not to step on the State Department’s feet? How to win the cat/mouse game with authoritarians? Could we create a loose network of technologists – an “open source United Nations” or a “digital Red Cross” – to help those in need?
  • Gaming & Government – Led by Tim Hwang. Tim discussed the history of edutainment, principles to create successful games, and how to motivate students to act after they learn from them. I’ll write an blog post about this workshop later.

Met interesting people:

  • Matt Cooperrider – community organizer
  • Vanessa Scanfeld – Co-founder of MixedInk (technology used by the White House)
  • Tim Hwang – works with Yochai Benkler of Harvard’s Berkmann Center for Internet & Society
  • Will add more people soon
And learned of even more progressive websites to promote in our Digital Literacy Contest:
  • Tor – anonymity online
  • Littlesis – an involuntary facebook of powerful Americans, collaboratively edited by people like you
  • Guardian – make Google Android a secure, private and anonymous phone
  • ShiftSpace – open source browser plugin for collaboratively annotating and editing the web
  • WayBackMachine – archive of the Internet
  • USASpending.org – How the government spends money on contracts, grants, etc.
Thanks goes to Matt Cooperrider for working hard to put it all together. =)

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Albert Borgmann, Philosopher of Science

Excerpt from Albert Borgmann’s Crossing the Postmodern Divide.

The section ‘Hyperintelligence’ from the chapter Hypermodernism pp. 102-109:

With security and liberty reasonably provided for, hyperintelligence seems destined to be the final instrument of fulfilling the promise of technology; it will enable us at last to “make ourselves the masters and possessors of nature” as Descartes has it.” That is the way it appears. But in reality, hyperintelligence, left to its hypertrophic tendencies, will lead to a severe diminution of human intelligence. Not that the hyperintelligent assault on the substance of human life will be an unprecedented and incomprehensible campaign. After all, pieces of hyperintelligence have been in place for a generation or more. What will be new are the intensification and coordination of these presently incipient and scattered effects.

Again we can get a sense of the gathering force of hyperintelligence by considering its analogy to human intelligence. While our native nervous system animates us and allows us to move with purpose and grace, the hyperintelligent system will be so extensive that it is everywhere already, obviating the need to move anywhere. It allows us to be in touch with everyone all the time. This ubiquity is often thought to favor universal connection and community, and this is surely so in a superficial sense. More deeply considered, however, the nervous system of hyperintelligence will disconnect us one from the other. If everyone is indifferently present regardless of where one is located on the globe, no one is commandingly present. Those who beas come present via a communication link have a diminished presence, since we can always make them vanish if their presence becomes burdensome. Moreover, we can protect ourselves from unwelcome persons altogether by using screening devices. Since I in turn am unwelcome to others, it will not be strictly true that everyone will be indifferently accessible to me. Yet that leaves a practical infinity of conversation partners.

The telephone network, of course, is an early version of hyperintelligent  communication, and we know in what ways the telephone has led to disconnectedness. It has extinguished the seemingly austere communication via letters. Yet this austerity was wealth in disguise. To write a letter one needed to sit down, collect one’s thoughts and world, and commit them laboriously to paper. Such labor was a guide to concentration and responsibility. One was brought face to face with one’s circumstances and forced to gather them into a succinct account. Correspondingly, readers of letters, faced with so spare and brief a document, had to concentrate on their correspondent and immerse  themselves thoughtfully in the sender’s world. A correspondence  used to amount to a life’s monument, carefully constructed and gratefully treasured.

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