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How Good Software Makes Us Stupid 385

siliconbits writes "The BBC has an interesting article about how ever improving software damages our ability to think innovatively. 'Search engines' function of providing us with information almost instantly means people are losing their intellectual capacity to store information, Nicolas Carr said.' This sadly convinced some journos to come up with wildfire titles such as 'Google damages users' brains, author claims.'"
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How Good Software Makes Us Stupid

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  • News To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Revotron ( 1115029 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:13AM (#33560754)

    Right, and having a dictionary and thesaurus on my desk in easy reach is stopping me from learning new words.

    Die in a fire.

    • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:17AM (#33560802)

      Right, and having a dictionary and thesaurus on my desk in easy reach is stopping me from learning new words.

      IIRC, those books will help embiggen a cromulent vocabulary.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:38AM (#33560984)

        Jesus, I had to Google both of those words.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          There's an app for that, you know.

        • by ian_from_brisbane ( 596121 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:21AM (#33561502)
          You mean "books" and "vocabulary"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        >>>embiggen a cromulent vocabulary.

        IIRC my college English professors taught the big words actually interfere with communication rather than enhance it. i.e. Follow the KISS principle. Anyway this article sounds stupid. As Einstein once commented, "What is the point of memorizing information when you can look it up in a book?" He thought it was more productive to focus on actual thinking rather than rote repetition.

        • Re:News To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Tanktalus ( 794810 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:02AM (#33561250) Journal
          The point of having disparate information all colocated in one person's head is to improve one's ability to form patterns, and, from those, extract hypotheses to extend those patterns (or to fill holes in those patterns). In other words, if you don't actually know something, it's hard to extend that piece of information in new areas. Memorisation isn't the goal - it's information which you then need to apply critical thinking skills against in order to produce new information.
          • Re:News To Me (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Hylandr ( 813770 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:22AM (#33561524)
            Excellent point made about memorization not being the goal, yet you still managed to say that it is.

            The ability to *use* knowldege has nothing to do with knowing it. Critical thinking and sleuthing is far more important than knowing A goes into B.I have personally met individuals that *knew* their material and refused to accept the possibility that it had changed. In the Technology sector, this is fatal, as things often change very rapidly, in the course of weeks or months rather than years.

            Finding information in a book is one thing, today, some information is far too dynamic to be of use by the time it reaches print.

            - Dan.
            • Re:News To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

              by BattleApple ( 956701 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:30AM (#33561598)

              Excellent point made about memorization not being the goal, yet you still managed to say that it is.

              sounds to me like he said memorization is not the goal, but it helps you reach your goal

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              Synthesis is the goal, memorization helps you reach it. And, it should be said, some things are more important to memorize than others.

              For example, it's important and useful to memorize the logic behind certain algorithms or certain concepts that are used in computer science because, if you have those fundamentals memorized, you'll be able to combine the basic concepts into more complex structures and create new and novel things. Not having the basics memorized will prevent you from doing any higher level t

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Hylandr ( 813770 )
                It's been said before;

                Tell me and I will forget,
                Show me and I will remember,
                involve me and I will understand.

                That said exercising your brain may be fun and give you that spandex in the morning feeling but push comes to shove a person is likely to die from cancer or alzheimer's so what's the point after all?

                - Dan.
                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  The point being is that if you understand you also remember. Without the memory your involvement and understanding is useless because all of that will be lost to you.

        • Latency (Score:5, Insightful)

          by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:58AM (#33561878) Journal

          What is the point of memorizing information when you can look it up in a book?

          Q) What's the point of having 1st, 2nd and 3rd level caches, and DRAM when you can swap to and from a 1TB disk?
          A) Latency.

          That said, there is no point memorizing/caching useless information, or information which is not involved in much synthesis or processing, or information for tasks which tolerate high latencies.

          So memorization is still useful and will always be useful. Of course if they ever start making better neural interfaces, we can artificially enhance our memories with fairly low latencies.

          Basically you could associate brain patterns/sequences (thought-macros) with objects and tasks. So just thinking of someone (followed by a "start command sequence", "quick-recall-end"[1]) would get your e-brain to recall whatever it has on that someone (which you saved by associating the objects - videos, pics, text, structured data, with the thought pattern you get when you think of that person).

          Of course, in a DRM infested world there would likely be many artificial limits and parasitic costs associated with such devices. These would be the cost of copyright laws. Humans would be more crippled than they would be otherwise.

          Then the title would be "how bad laws make us stupid" ;).

          [1] The "quick-recall-end" thought macro saves you time - you don't have to think of the "end command sequence" thought pattern (which would be required for more complicated/intensive stuff).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by adonoman ( 624929 )

          big words actually interfere with communication rather than enhance it

          It's all about the audience - don't use "acetylsalicylic acid" or "non-steroidal anti-inflamatories" when "aspirin" or "pain-killer" will do. On the other hand, if the situation calls for it, the extra specificity and precision is critical. English has very few exact synonyms - we have the extra words because they add meaning. It's the reason Simon and Garfunkel can talk of "people talking without speaking" and "people hearing without listening", and just be contradicting themselves.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          IIRC my college English professors taught the big words actually interfere with communication rather than enhance it.

          That is often true. Longer words can be interesting, if they allow subtle distinctions in meaning, or practically useful, if they allow precisely defined terminology to replace vague descriptions. On the other hand, writing "he answered affirmatively" instead of "he said yes" doesn't really help anyone, and all that business-speak "utilise" instead of "use" nonsense needs to die.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by digitig ( 1056110 )
          IYRC, your professors were oversimplifying. "embiggen" and "cromulent" are three syllables each. Try reposting your message with no words of three syllables or more. "Professors", "interfere", "communication", "principle", "anyway", "article", "commented", "memorizing", "information", "productive" and "repetition" all have to go. As does the "C" in "IIRC". Do those words really interfere with communication -- er, sorry, make it hard for each of us to know that the other means?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by FiloEleven ( 602040 )

          I heard this expressed as "Never use a big word when a diminutive alternative would suffice." =)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 )
        Now you're just being facetious.
    • More like... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:30AM (#33560914) Journal

      More like how having a spell-checker makes people never learn how to spell most words. And even with a spell-checker then you see them writing "should of" or using a wrong near-homophone (homophone, surprisingly enough, doesn't mean "sounds gay";) like "eat, drink and be marry" because if the spell-checker didn't put a wavy line under a word it must be the right one.

      Or like already the use of calculator means a lot of people in the western world are effectively innumerate. They can't actually even tally up whether a 5 Euro bill is enough for two packs of X at 1.99 each and one of something else at 0.95. (And I'm only using Euro as an example because here the VAT is already _included_ in the price, you don't have to calculate how much the VAT would be on top of the price. So really, they just need to add.) Or they can't even notice that a special offer of a six-pack of something at only 5.95 Euro isn't actually an improvement over a price of 0.95 Euro per can otherwise, unless you told them to calculate and they pull out their calculator.

      No, I'm serious. There actually are such special offers that sound like you could save a lot, but are actually more expensive per unit/gallon/inch/whatever. And they actually work. Because enough people can't do elementary arithmetic any more, or it ranks up there with anal rape for the kind of force or threat of harm you'd need to use to make them do arithmetic.

      We had a good century or so of building up literacy and numeracy... and now it's sliding right back.

      • Re:More like... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:35AM (#33560956)

        What would you have whined about had you lived two centuries ago before English had standardized spelling? Or had you lived in China two thousand years ago, would you wail of the abacus making people unable to cipher?

        • Well... (Score:3, Funny)

          by Moraelin ( 679338 )

          What would you have whined about had you lived two centuries ago before English had standardized spelling?

          Well, if it helps, some people still seem to think that spelling something the same as everyone else is a sign of an unimaginative mind ;)

      • Re:More like... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:40AM (#33561002) Homepage Journal
        Like any tool it all depends on how you use it. After I got a mac my spelling actually IMPROVED thanks to the real time spell checker built in to all applications*(ok, Cocoa applications). I could actually see my spelling errors real time and have been able to pinpoint words I frequently spell incorrectly and now I would say my spelling is better than ever before. Back in the stone age when I actually just wrote shit down I basically got 0 feedback and thus my spelling became atrocious(which I initially spelled with two ts, so obviously room for improvement :P).

        As for effect calculators/computers are having on numeracy, I think you must have a very short memory :P People were complaining about this for years, well before such devices became ubiquitous. For instance I remember ALL the way back to 1990 there being this huge banner on the side of a store selling something for $2.50 or 2 for $5! What a deal!
      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:18AM (#33561454) Homepage Journal

        More like how having a spell-checker makes people never learn how to spell most words

        Spill chuckers oar grate! I owl wise ewes won, sew eye no it's spilled core wrecked. Eye wood never loose my spill chucker!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Americano ( 920576 )

        homophone, surprisingly enough, doesn't mean "sounds gay";

        I don' t know, sounds pretty gay to me. :)

        I think you're exaggerating the effect of technology on math and basic literacy. The calculator is only useful if you understand what addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are to begin with, and how to apply them to your problem. If you just punch in a random sequence of numbers and operator keys on a calculator, it'll do exactly what you asked it to do, and calculate something - whether or no

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Do you not mean "Meet your demise in a sea of flames"? Clearly, your claims of not suffering from a degraded lexical range are mere fabrications.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tangelogee ( 1486597 )

        Do you not mean "Meet your demise in a sea of flames"? Clearly, your claims of not suffering from a degraded lexical range are mere fabrications.

        I prefer "Perish in a conflagration," myself...

    • Good (business and not for techies) software is designed is actually designed to force people to follow a process of best practices. In essence good software programs the people to do their work better. This is different then form a dictionary and thesaurus which are just point of references to be used like an expanded pallet.

    • Re:News To Me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:58AM (#33561192)

      First, I'll point out a recent Slashdot discussion [] on the topic, about a disagreement between Nicholas Carr and Steven Pinker about just how much the Internet is really "changing" our brains. Suffice it to say there is still plenty of disagreement among experts in the field.

      What I think is missing from Carr's anecdotes and study results is a meaningful measure of intelligence with respect to "what matters". Of course, "what matters" is inherently a loaded concept, where everyone will have a different opinion. But the problem is that Carr is making sweeping statements about intelligence in general, based on studies of sub-components of intelligence. I'm sure having access to a very effective search engine makes us "dumber" at the "find useful data in a mass of disorganized crap" problem. But most likely this liberates our minds to focus on (and get better at) higher-level problems, like critically thinking about ideas, or solving real-world dilemmas (the research was, after all, just a means to an end). So was the overall intelligence of the person going up or down when they focused less on being good researcher and more on being good thinker/solvers?

      The point is that every piece of technology will make us bad at the task that the technology replaces. But that's as it should be. The whole point is to liberate us from tedious or menial tasks, so that we can concentrate our intellect on those tasks that are hard (currently impossible) to automate. In principle this means that we are spending more and more time thinking about these truly challenging problems (and, thus, getting better at those kinds of "difficult thinking")... at the expense of getting worse at silly tasks that a computer can solve.

      And, as you point out, this is a trend that has been going on since humankind first saw fit to build tools. From language, to books, to calculators, to computers, to the Internet... we have automated and externalized a whole bunch of tasks. And yet society keeps getting along, becoming more sophisticated and advanced with every passing generation. I think we're doing just fine.
  • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:13AM (#33560760) Journal

    So the shitty slashcode may be doing us all a favor then? Visit idle and become a supergenius.

    • Yes, any message stating "Slow down, cowboy! It has been X minutes since your last post! Derp!" where X is anything greater then 2 is teaching you to, um... think... good.

      My personal best is X=35

  • by foobsr ( 693224 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:15AM (#33560780) Homepage Journal

    Quote: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" ( [] )

    In a way, this also gives a hint on how to explain the Dupe-Phenomenon.


  • Hardly Stupid (Score:5, Informative)

    by 4pins ( 858270 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:16AM (#33560794) Homepage

    "Never memorize what you can look up in books." - Albert Einstein

    As quoted in "Recording the Experience" (10 June 2004) at The Library of Congress

    • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:18AM (#33560816)

      "Never memorize what you can look up in books." - Albert Einstein

      As quoted in "Recording the Experience" (10 June 2004) at The Library of Congress

      Did you know that off the top of your head or did you have to Google it? ;-)

    • Re:Hardly Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zwei2stein ( 782480 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:42AM (#33561022) Homepage

      You want to cache important stuff otherwise I/O will cripple your cpu...

      • Re:Hardly Stupid (Score:5, Interesting)

        by quercus.aeternam ( 1174283 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:15PM (#33562076) Homepage

        Sorry for the long answer to a fairly obvious statement, but it's written, and it's going out:

        True, but to me there is a difference between memorizing (learning verbatim/rote) and just remembering something useful. I haven't memorized the size of the known universe, I just remember it. I didn't memorize the size of bears, I just remember it - and when I go to use something I haven't recalled in a while I may notice that it is a little foggy. I can place bounds on the values and possibly remember specific values after dredging it from the depths of memory, but I can definitely recognize the need for a refresh.

        Anyway, the more you have to look something up, the better you will remember it. If it's something that you need to use frequently, your recollection of it it will become more and more solid with every lookup - though if it is complex enough, you will likely notice that it is hard to remember, and keep the reference extremely handy.

    • Sort of (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:43AM (#33561032) Journal

      Sort of. You do however need basically to know what to look for. Einstein would know what book to pull out to get any bit of physics he didn't remember offhand, and had enough knowledge to know if some reasoning you throw at him is valid or you're pulling his leg. (Well, ok, maybe not about Quantum Mechanics, or not at first;))

      Joe Sixpack googling for something will land a few million hits, the first couple of pages will be mostly completely unrelated stuff and/or woowoo from some snake oil vendors. And he just never learned the things that would help him distinguish which is which. Having google and no knowledge of his own won't make him Einstein, sorry.

      E.g., try googling for, well, just about anything quantum, and see how many bullshit quantum-chi-crystal pendants you find, "ZOMG, uncertainty means we create the universe when we look at it" apologetics for magical thinking, keyword/link spam sites, etc, you find.

      On a good day, you might get the Wikipedia link at the top, because, well, google at some point went "fuck it" trying to sort what is relevant and just artificially upranked Wikipedia. Which half the time still need some filtering abilities of your own, because it'll be a page full of [citation needed] and "original research" signs that still won't help _you_ much decide if you should trust it or not or where to go for more authoritative stuff, often enough will directly contradict other Wikipedia pages it links to, etc. And occasionally will contain such vandalisms as that Iron is mined from monkeys, that the bridges in Ancient Rome were made in Japan, or that didgeridoos are cloned in test tubes. (I swear to the FSM, all three are actual things I've learned on Wikipedia.) Without any knowledge of your own, how would you know whether to trust that or not?

      And that's actually on a good day. On a bad day you won't even have that Wikipedia link.

    • Re:Hardly Stupid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:55AM (#33561156) Homepage


      I have had two types of exams at a uni. Some where Exams where you had to bring everything in your head and some where exams where you could bring a whole ref library with you (some where even carried out in a library).

      The latter were 10 times more difficult than the former because the prof could actually give you a problem that forces you to think and use what you have learned instead of checking if you have managed to memorise the material.

      Software may be making us less patient. I would definitely disagree about the idea that it is making us more stupid.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:18AM (#33560814)

    We had to walk up hills and solve complicated equations in the snow to search the internet. And we liked it, it built character.

    Get off my lawn.

  • I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Haedrian ( 1676506 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:18AM (#33560824)

    In fact with the ease of obtaining new information, the way its presented in bite-size paragraphs will make us actually more intelligent.

    And with the way technology rapidly develops, you have to kind of think "What next?" and start imagining/thinking.

    All the software developers I know always have google on to help them when they forget syntax or whatever - doesn't make them less intelligent - it just means that they're using their brain for more than just remembering things.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      Yes and no.
      Google is great but just too easy to abuse.
      Google Montauk Project and you find all sorts of interesting stuff that has every possibility of making you stupid.
      If not you at least some people

      The problem with search engines is that they are full of unverified data and a large number of people have never been taught the skills that are needed to separate the wheat from the chaff.
      Many generations have been taught that if it is in a book then it is true and to them the internet seems like one very larg

  • hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:19AM (#33560828) Homepage

    Not sure if TFA is accurate or not, but I do know that my research skills have vastly improved since the Internet became a daily part of my life (I'm 26). This isn't just because there is more information available...I mean I am able to sift through the crap and find what I'm looking for much quicker than I used to.

    That's worth something...right?

  • by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:19AM (#33560834)

    The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

    • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:36AM (#33560970) Homepage

      The author could have known that if he'd simply look it up through Google. But that would invalidate the point he was trying to make.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

      I agree. But doesn't one feed into the other?

      All of the great scientists and inventors I have read about would study a subject as well as related things for long periods of time. Their minds would stew that information and then make the connections for that "A HA!" moment - usually when they're doing something completely unrelated; like sleeping in Linus Pauling's case. If their brains didn't have that information stored, it wouldn't have been able to make those connections.

    • The "intellectual capacity to store information" and the "ability to think innovatively" are controlled by two completely different cognitive mechanisms.

      To say nothing of the less fundamental but still important fact that the abilities to use a search engine and evaluate the credibility of sources are independent skills. If anything, it's the latter that has become an issue, not because people have gotten worse at it, but just because many sources of information are now available to the vast majority of people who were never very good at evaluating sources to begin with.

      In any case, considering the main uses of Google, it's not like the ability to store inf

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:56AM (#33561168) Homepage

      True, but both require training. If all you did was trying to memorize trivia, you wouldn't be that good at reasoning. If you google everything, then you won't be that good at memorizing things. The essential skill you're looking for is critical thinking, but critical thinking requires you both to actually know enough to reason from and the ability to reason.

      If you ask me what the cause of WWII is, I'm not going to pull it out of some logical nowhere. I have to pull it a lot of facts about WWI, the great depression, political ideas of the time, the threat of communism and so on. The more facts I have, the more likely I have some relevant facts to use as basis. Of course you can say you can google it, but you can only google facts that you know are missing. If you don't even know the relevance, you lose them.

      And on that topic, there's also a lot of useful metaknowledge that goes between pure facts and pure logic, like organizational theory, group theory, motivational theory, psychology, game theory and so on. People who know it will understand the actors, those that don't know it also won't understand why people do what they do. And you rarely manaqe to google your way into a decent understanding of it, it's more long term lerning for those able to memorize.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DrgnDancer ( 137700 )

        I think the important factor to consider here is the difference between having a handle on a subject and being able to reliably quote specific information about that subject. To continue your use of WWII origins as a metaphor: there is a broad difference between having a handle on the broad ideas that depression, a poorly structured peace agreement from the last war, and populism drove the Nazi rise to power through a series of rallies, events, and demonstrations; and being able to reliably quote the date

  • by Max Romantschuk ( 132276 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:21AM (#33560842) Homepage

    The only way to manage the ever growing amounts of information in the world is to offload part of the processing to some kind of AI. Likely, this is the beginning of a long progression.

    Is this bad and horrible or insanely great? (Pun intended.) Who knows? I suspect it is a logical progression of our evolution.

  • by frinkster ( 149158 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:21AM (#33560844)

    The article described a simple experiment where a puzzle needed to be solved using a computer program. One half of participants were given a 'good' program - it gave hints, was intuitive and generally helped the user to their goal.

    The other half took on the same puzzle, but with software which offered little to make the task easier.

    There is a research lab near me that does this sort of thing. I've talked with many people that walk out of this place. They are there for the small amounts of cash they receive in exchange for participating. If one of the computer programs made the puzzle easier, that allowed them to finish and collect their cash faster.

    The motivation is not to complete the puzzle, the motivation is to collect the cash. To accurately compare the two methods, you will need to find a group of people who are interested in learning how to solve a difficult puzzle and divide them into the groups. Good luck finding such a group, however.

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      but with software which offered little to make the task easier.

      If the psychological testing gig doesn't work out, sounds like they'll fit right into the Corporate Business software field.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:23AM (#33560854)
    I sat down the other day to watch a movie and was actually paralyzed with too many choices. I have blu-rays, DVD's, Netflix streaming, Hulu, YouTube, hundreds of cable channels (including many on-demand), and about a zillion other ways to watch TV and movies. But lately, this has become too much. I'm beginning to feel like I have *too much* choice (something I never would have thought possible). Back in the day, my choice was pretty limited. I would go into the local video store and maybe discover something special or just rent a blockbuster--whatever. Now I have a sea of possibilities and it's overwhelming.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:28AM (#33560890)

    He noticed a depreciation in memory from writing things down...

    It has hurt us SO much

    • Well, Socrates was the one who said that this literacy thing is was overrated. Plato should've listened to his teacher.
  • Eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:28AM (#33560892) Homepage

    What about the people who have to write the good software?

  • Look It Up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr. Foogle ( 253554 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:28AM (#33560896) Homepage

    "Search engines(TM) function of providing us with information almost instantly means people are losing their intellectual capacity to store information,

    Oh, please. Before we had the internet, we had reference books.

    The key to getting things done is not in memorizing sheaves of information but knowing how to look things up and synthesize.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      I believe Einstein once said: Don't waste your memory on things you can look up, just know where to look for your information. But I am having problems locating the specific quote.
  • by teh kurisu ( 701097 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:30AM (#33560922) Homepage

    The article starts off by talking about taxi drivers, which reminded me of this incident [].

    This isn't just a software issue; it applies to any tool that has replaced a skill. You could say the same about matches replacing firelighting skills.

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )
      I think that sat nav does make that sort of error more likely. People are unlikely to "just set off" without some idea of were they are going.
  • Humans evolve (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:31AM (#33560932) Homepage

    We will never be "the same" as we were yesterday. Our great-grandparents probably didn't go to school. Our grandparents probably did but left as early as they could. Our parents almost certainly attended school and got some qualifications. We are required by law to attend school and almost certain will leave with a raft of skills - not a SINGLE one of which will be Latin.

    My great-grandparents probably did not have electricity, or bulbs, so they could not study at night without breathing in carcinogens from a fire hazard. My grandparents were evacuated from their education into villages and towns to avoid undirected "batch-dropped" bombs. My parents never saw a computer until they already had children.

    Humans do not stay the same. The skills my parents need are different to the ones I need and always will be. I *do not* need to memorise lots of phone numbers because I have multiple SIM cards and online backups that do that for me. I don't even KNOW most of the numbers I dial regularly. My grandparents probably had a 4-digit phone number when they first used one, and barely knew anyone they could phone. My great-grandparents did not have biros to write with, and I don't write with one now (I can't remember the last time I had to write anything down, except on computer!).

    Stop complaining about "drastic changes" that the human body or mind has to undergo. It's ALWAYS in flux, my daughter will not learn the same language that I've spent my life learning. If we're talking critical changes, then things like planetary legacies, etc. are infinitely more important than "our children may use a calculator instead of their fingers" or any of the things mentioned in this article.

    Humans are a flexible, adaptable, learning machine. That's what makes us so fantastically successful (relatively speaking to other mammals our size). Our brains will automatically adapt to what they need to learn to support modern life. In this case, probably long-term memory will eventually make way for improvisational and logistical skills. That's not a BAD thing.

  • More like laziness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:31AM (#33560934)
    Having software that thinks for you makes you vulnerable to stop wanting to make the effort to think for yourself. I work tech support, and you'd be amazed the amount of people in that field who lost the simple ability to make the logical deduction that "if a problem can be caused by part A or B, and swapping out a functional part A doesn't solve it, part B must be at fault." Some agents will fight you tooth and nail that part A might still be the problem even after swapping out three fully functional part As, yet are unable to explain you why they believe so when pressed to back up their argument.
    • by Steauengeglase ( 512315 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:59AM (#33561204)

      I've been working around this business for most of my adult life, going from phone jockey to the guy who wrote the manuals to the IT dept. To be brutally honest, a lot (though certainly not all) of that has less to do with people getting lazy about their job and more about employers dumbing down training and automating so much of the troubleshooting process so they can hire any idiot off the street. Soon you have a floor full of idiots and management can't be happier. Pay rates drop, distension disappears because you have made the use of critical thinking skills a punishable offense and the higher levels egos get rubbed because they are now the smartest minds in the building.

      Finally quality drops and the training dept begins to yet again lower standards. Wash, rinse and repeat. In the end you have a room full of shivering, gibbering, shit producing bio-IVRs who are too afraid that they will get canned for saying anything other than the text they see on the screen.

  • Wouldn't a more standardized system leave some whim to experienced drivers, but mostly provide a more intelligent routing service? Besides, if the driver doesn't speak English, they're golden. Since it's London, that's likely anyhow...
  • It makes us lazy, not stupid. It's not possible to lose intelligence already gained.

    • Never heard of Alzheimers, head injuries, aging, damage from anoxia, other forms of dementia, drug induced damage, infection...? (To name a few ways of "losing intelligence already gained").

      Furthermore, natural forgetting erases skills and "intelligence" too. The brain is wonderfully plastic, and if you're not using your intelligence, your brain will scrap it so it can more readily do whatever it is you really are doing with your brain.

      Remember, your brain is continually recycling/rebuilding itself.


  • Having an online thesaurus has embiggened my vocabulary mammothly!

  • The corollary to Mr. Carr's assertion is clear: In order to become smarter, we must write terrible software.

  • My $0.02 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:41AM (#33561012) Homepage Journal
    I find that the internet, and Google-like search capabilities mirror and satisfy my mind's innate desire to jump from one thought (and topic) to another.

    Now, in addition to thinking random thoughts (which the mind/brain tends to do), I can read up and learn about on these subjects which earlier used to be just thoughts, and in that sense it makes me more learned.

    What this encourages though, is a more unsteady thought pattern, with related and seemingly 'random' web searches about this thought stream.

    I'm considering taking up meditation to encourage a 'calmer' mind that doesn't jump around as much between thoughts.

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:42AM (#33561020)

    So this has improved my relative intelligence.
    I had chemo (and had issues before).

    The logic circuits still work but I only remember pointers to information. So search engines let me turn that pointer into the full fact on demand.

  • Counter Point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by way2slo ( 151122 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:45AM (#33561054) Journal

    Google being quick at finding information does not make us know less. People know as much as they want to put the effort into knowing. Google can help them find more to know.

  • by SpinningAround ( 449335 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:50AM (#33561100)

    I didn't read anything that said we were losing our capacity to think innovatively. In fact, the article makes a point of the showing what might be considered the opposite - that the brain patterns demonstrated when Googling and surfing the internet were associated with making sharp decisions. What the author of the study articulated was a theory that this was in conflict with concentrated calm retention of knowledge like reading a book or memorizing a million and one routes through London.

    What the article didn't expand on was why this might be very bad. Unless you think that someone is going to take away your GPS or the Internet then it doesn't matter any more than inventing the written word put story-telling as a means of retaining history out of business was a bad thing. Surely that train of thought would rely on the notion that something very very bad was going to happen to the world and at that point I fear that the skills you would need were lost generations ago by the vast majority of people. Surely the author is not suggesting that the fact that the vast majority have almost certainly lost or at least have diminished the patterns of thinking that supported primal hunter-gather life was necessarily a bad thing for our evolution?

    Well that would be until Skynet takes control, anyway.

  • Not total bollocks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Salamander ( 33735 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:54AM (#33561146) Homepage Journal

    The sad fact is that making something convenient *does* impact people's ability to use less convenient methods. That can be a problem when the less convenient method is unavailable, or has other benefits. With respect to the first point, there's a lot of information that hasn't made its way into Google yet - e.g. legal case histories, medical records, lots of historical archive material. Some of that information is subject to privacy concerns and should *never* be on Google or Wikipedia. If you want to use those sources effectively, you have to develop skills like using the local classification system (e.g. Dewey/LoC or domain-specific) and indexing methods, skimming pages quickly to sort out the wheat from the chaff, etc. You get better by doing, and if what you've been doing is honing your Google skills instead then you simply will be less productive in these other environments than someone who is used to them. S2BU if that turns out to be part of your job, and you might be surprised how often it is.

    With respect to the second point, I'll give another example. One of my work-study jobs in college was to develop a bibliography on African education. One of the critical skills in that job was to read the bibliography in one book to find other titles and authors, but that's more to the previous point. The other thing that really helped was to go to the shelves to find one book I knew about, and then *look around* to find others that might be of interest. Try that on Google. The kind of search they offer is too focused, or perhaps not focused properly, to allow that kind of browsing. I get the same experience every time I use an old-fashioned paper encyclopedia; I find all sorts of other information "along the way" that's utterly useless in my current search but more often than not comes in handy - even if it's only as a conversational gambit - some other time. Those are secondary benefits that I don't get by using the major online sources, though I get some by wandering through low-profile blogs and other sites. To the extent that some people never stray more than a link or two away from Google (or Slashdot), that's a loss and it's sad.

    The web can broaden our horizons (TBL's initial vision) or narrow them. Sadly, the current directions we're taking tend more toward the latter.

  • by bfwebster ( 90513 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:03AM (#33561260) Homepage

    Variations of this argument date back at least 25 years, when it was it was seriously proposed that the WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointers) interface being popularized by the Macintosh would mentally cripple us, and that we should all stick with command-line interfaces. No, seriously. I strongly suspect a similar argument was made when the automatic transmission was introduced in cars, or the Dewey Decimal system and card catalogs into libraries. ("You should just read all the books and know what's where!")

    It was bollocks then, and it's bollocks now. These are enabling technologies -- people get more done. I have 3000 books in 17 bookshelves (the vast majority non-fiction) and have new books from Amazon arrive almost weekly; I read heavily, but I also use Google and other on-line tools heavily. ..bruce..

  • by Cyberllama ( 113628 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:06AM (#33561312)

    So iTunes is just Apple's way of making us all a bit smarter by being *terrible*. Whew. I was confused on that one!

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:07AM (#33561324) Homepage

    Just like books destroyed our ability to memorize, slide rules destroyed our ability to calculate, and that newfangled mechanical music technology--what are is it called? yeah, harpsichords--destroyed our ability to sing.

  • by gmuslera ( 3436 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:16AM (#33561434) Homepage Journal

    What would make us stupid is not to take advantage of available resources. And having more resources open doors, not close them. Same could be said about electronic calculators, is not about doing the math, but what you do with the results. You can always do the math by hand or memorize something, but you are not forced because what matters is what you do with that.

    But yes, somehow Internet makes us stupid, but not in the "why remember what is online?" way. Is a meme machine, worse than old radio, worse than tv. Viral is the new culture. No thinking needed, just behave like, do like, or just like, whatever you already saw on internet. Is a good thing for marketing campaings, you just put something that seem cool enough and people buy it, no critical thinking involved, just accept what the mass/social media orders, That is the real danger of internet, not the "external storage" part.

  • by bl8n8r ( 649187 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:18AM (#33561468)

    you only need to follow a few simple rules to increase your profit and maintain market share:

    - embrace extend and re-market, or extinguish
    - patent the crap out of everything; sue for infringement
    - sue competition to bankrupt them
    - lock-in with EULA, lock-down with DMCA
    - implement proprietary systems for everything; interoperability to be limited or broken
    - collect demographic info for targeted marketing or sales

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:18AM (#33561470) Journal
    There was this good time when all you needed was a good sextant, the Table of Logarithms by John Napier, and a chronometer and you can tell you latitude and longitude without any fancy nancy satellites, once a day on the local noon. Heck, they had to put glass windows on Gemini space capsules and Apollo crew modules so that they can take star shots. All that aggravation in maintaining integrity and sealing around the windows, and protecting it through re-entry... All so that these spacemen could take star shots with their sextant. . If it is good enough for inter-planetary travel it should be good to take you to the nearest Walmart right?

    The Super Constellation aircraft used by all our Chiefs of Staff, since Gen Douglas MacArthur III had special window on the roof to let the navigator take star shots and sun shots

    Now with this new fangled GPS, this valuable skill is completely lost. Now people need a stupid voice in Brit accent speaking from a plastic box to get them from Kalamazoo MI to Tuscaloosa Alabama.

  • Half of everyone... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Living Fractal ( 162153 ) <> on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:20AM (#33561490) Homepage
    I suspect this is merely an exacerbation of the axiom that "half of everyone is dumber than average". Nothing new except that the effect has become more pronounced. That in itself may merit some consideration, but because I believe it averages out (there are people who can take advantage of the situation just as there are people whom are taken advantage of) I highly doubt this will prove to be catastrophic to humankind.
  • by sesshomaru ( 173381 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:22AM (#33561516) Journal

    Myself, I'm still upset at the devastation that that upstart Gutenberg caused to Medieval Mnemonics! []

  • by seasunset ( 469481 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @11:23AM (#33561528) Homepage

    If this is being stupid, then I want more.

    You see, I am human being, with limited cognitive capacities, limited free time, limited resources.
    Not having to deal with such "important" things as remembering phone numbers or massive amounts of data allows me to direct my time and memory for other things.
    Ah, and I can leverage my freed time and freed cognitive abilities with the search powers of google to discover even more. I've now searched and read philosophers and historians. Something a few years ago this would have been less simple: more costly to get the info and less time to do such thing. This by the way, encouraged me to by their books.

    Yes, I do not know the year that Nietzsche or Wagner were born, but I do have an idea that they were contemporary to each other. Guess what: having been exposed to their ideas and their music is much more important than knowing the details of their birth dates. Which by the way were [goes way and googles for 20 secs] 1844 and 1813.

    I've gained a lot with my new found stupidity. And lost very little in return.

    I may have lost the details, but I have more time and resources that allow me to see far away. And the details are really here, at my fingertips.

  • I'm a huge fan of Getting Things Done [], and it's directly responsible for a lot of positive changes in my life. One of the core tenets of "GTD" is to habitually, obsessively enter the things you need to remember into a "trusted system" where you can find them again easily. Whether that's a notebook or index cards or a Franklin planner or an iPod (my pick), the important part is that you can trust it to store the things that are important to you.

    By some definition, my iPod and its planning software (yay Omnifocus!) has made me dumber. I know longer remember most of the stuff that I need to accomplish. Instead, I check it often to find stuff that I could be working on. I don't have to recall the three unrelated things I need to pick up next time I'm at the local home store; I consult my iPod and check them off as I put them in my cart. Neither do I make an effort to remember that my daughters' piano lessons are at a certain time - my calendar is much better at remembering that stuff. I forget all the things I need to talk to my boss about, but I can pull up that list in about 5 seconds.

    The enormous payoff is that instead of spending my mental energy on trying to remember a thousand little things that would be crying for my attention, I can dedicate myself to the one task I'm specifically working on at the moment. I have a lot more free time now and I'm much better at juggling all my responsibilities. If I'm stupid for relying on something other than my mind to track all those things, then so be it. I can live with that.

  • That is why (Score:3, Funny)

    by sustik ( 90111 ) on Monday September 13, 2010 @04:34PM (#33565454)

    I use Linux, gcc, emacs, xfig, latex, mythtv, mplayer etc. It helps me stay sharp...

    Seriously, I like these programs, but there is always something to learn work around etc...

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson