Does the internet make you stupid?

by Cem Basman

Today at lunch I had an interesting question from a system engineer: Does the internet make you stupid? He said, before the web was invented you had to figure out everything all on yourself when you had to solve your problems. Today you just ask your favorite search engine before you start to think. Did I mention he is 28?


Isn't it more stupid to waste time again and again for problems that have been solved already a thousand times?

Oliver Regelmann, 2006-07-18 23:09

Totally agree - but it's not a question of age! I'm 15 years older than this SE and I live on these benefits as well... And yes - it's more stupid searching for solutions that have already been found a couple of times!

Wolfgang Schwerber, 2006-07-18 23:16

No it doesn't. Stupid people still can't find things. Having information available does not make people stupid it makes them smarter. The same argument could have been used for Libraries. Clever people just know how to make effective use of resources and get to the solution faster.

Carl Tyler, 2006-07-18 23:43

Is it any more stupid to check the internet first than it is to ask a colleague about a problem before trying to tackle it yourself? What I think the internet has really done is allow the lonely IT professional at SMBs to be able to increase his/her knowledge by collaborating with people in their field. Via blogs and other personal web sites, I have been able to find solutions to problems even when I have been the only Notes person in the company. I have also been able to easily search the IBM/Lotus Knowledgebase without having to wait on hold with Lotus Support or even to have a support contract. Honestly, I don't know what I would have done without the internet.

Sean Burgess, 2006-07-18 23:46

Well, a fool with a tool is still a fool. q.e.d.

Volker Weber, 2006-07-19 00:14

Reminds me of:

The good thing about the internet: Anyone can take part.
The bad thing about the internet: They all do.

OK. Earnestly now. I have forgotten the old days. We had no mobile phones, no internet, but we still enjoyed life and made progress. Can't remember how though. But it must have worked. So what the heck. No real difference.

But there is one victim of modern life I can clearly see: Verbindlichkeit. I think the best translation is 'commitment'. Commitment has gone for a lot of people. Many folks I know in the beginning of their twenties seem to have forgotten the term completely. Trying to set up an informal meeting? Forget about it.

a) "I'm not sure whether I can make it, just start without me."
b) "I'll call you as soon as I know."
c) "I have to cancel, another appointment came up."
d) [...]

The internet doesn't necessarily make you stupid (although sometimes I'm not sure when I read certain forums), but for me modern communications have destroyed some important principles both at work and in private.

But then again, I might just be incompatible ;-)

Frank Dröge, 2006-07-19 00:15

The Internet allows many people to capitalise on the learning of others. Why should I go through a trial and error process when someone else has already done it? All I need to do is model someone else's success. I think that this is smart, not stupid. The Internet has the possibility for the advancement of human knowledge on a massive scale.
I have never considered simply storing information in your brain to be a sign of intelligence, just a sign of good memory. The Internet levels the playing field in this regard to a large extent. Since people can more easily gather information then they have more capability to make look for patterns, trends and so on. The ability to assimilate and dissect large amounts of information quickly will become paramount.
You point about a possible decline in problem-solving skills is an interesting one. If people become accustomed to reply on others to solve their problems then this ability could very well decline. Just like a child relies on its parents. I think that there were already many people in this category before the Internet and that there is likely to be a two-pronged outcome. People who didn't like solving problems will solve less. People who do like solving problems will solve more.

Ethann Castell, 2006-07-19 00:23

Stupid people still can't find things.

You made my day, Carl.

Cem Basman, 2006-07-19 00:59

I think having the internet as a knowledge base is a great idea, it is no wonder that google wants to make libraries digitally available.

The problem is, what will happen, if this resource won't be availbe once. Maybe you remember your time at the university, you learned many things in detail which already had solutions and you thought, why should I learn that if I can just search for it and have the solution, but in some years all the people who know about it might have disappeared and then there are only a few experts. So we always have to remember that we have to make sure that we can also live properly without that resource.

And sometimes not the solution itself is enough and you even need the way to the solution to extend it and also get known about the process so you can fully understand the problem.

Nicolas Kübler, 2006-07-19 08:52

People are no more or less stupid now than they have ever been. What the Internet does is increase the speed and the reach of stupid actions.

I have an excellent example of this here today.

Some time ago, Worth1000 ran one of those Photoshop competitions which involve combining impossible things (like an eagle's head on a lion, that sort of thing). One entry had a woman's breast apparently acting as home to some form of burrowing insect. It was very well done - you couldn't see the joins - but was obviously impossible as there was no sign of any bleeding, swelling, inflamation, infection or necrosis. Just holes where there should be none with creatures in them.

Now someone has concocted a cautionary tale using this illustration to make the point that you should always wash new clothes before you wear them - you don't know where they've been before. We are supposed to believe from the illustration that someone became infested with burrowing insects after donning some new garment for the first time without washing it.

And this cautionary tale is being circulated as a Word .doc, including the usual exhortation - send this to all your friends. Many recipients can't hit "forward" and add every email address in their address book to the "to" field fast enough.

Our hoax filter stops it locally, and our users never see it. But if they did...

Chris Linfoot, 2006-07-19 11:27


that's always the problem with all ressources outside your own brain. The old fasioned way is to have some own storage where the most important information you need is available even if you lost internet connection or your favorite web 2.0 service is down. No reason to memorise everything you need ;-)

Sven Semel, 2006-07-19 11:31


this was meant in a way of transporting knowledge over generations. Of course I backup important information, e.g. when i am working in the train or at any other place that has no internet available, then I might have to wait without doing that.

Summed up I wanted to say, you can use your calculator but don't forget how to do 1+2 by hand :)

Nicolas Kübler, 2006-07-19 13:29


fully agreed on this end!

Sven Semel, 2006-07-19 13:50

I study media psychology at the university of Bern and I can't possibly say the the internet makes people stupid. However, with the arrival of every new type of media there are two groups of people: sceptics and enthusiasts. Back in the beginning of the 20th century when the public radio appeared the sceptics knew that books are soon to disappear completely. So they did when the TV arrived. So they did with the internet. At the same time the enthusiasts hardly get off their trip praising the new technology.

If there is a concept in media psychology that has endured everything, then it's the concept of selective media usage. We are not just recipients, we actively use the benefits of each type of media when it's most appropriate. Or to put it into the words of Don Norman: a type of media is integrated in society when people start to use it for what it originally wasn't thought for. Example: answering machines were designed to take phone callls when you're away from your home. Today in the USA they are mostly used to screen phonecalls because there are so many telemarketers. Users are active and users are smart. Sometimes it's smart to pick up an oldfashioned book.

Does the internet make stupid? No, not really. However, research has found positive correlations between web browsing and levels of depressions. You know how to interpret correlations, right?

Philipp Sury, 2006-07-19 21:55

Philipp, that reminds me of my favourite William Gibson quote:

"The street finds it own uses for things"

Frank Dröge, 2006-07-19 23:19

Hello, I recently saw a really stupid internet idea. It is the so called "the top of the internet" and the owner wants to rip of peoples money by asking money for their ads on this top of the internet. Have a look at it at: What do you think?

Jeremy Jankings, 2007-03-08 08:41

"found positive correlations between web browsing and levels of depressions."

Nothing lasts forever, What was once great has fell into madness.

Eric Dean, 2009-05-09 18:44

Your site is vary hepful. I think that the internet can be bad or ggoood depindin on wat site yu vist. i'm doing an article for the nespepr.

Mary Iljohgret, 2010-01-11 23:02

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.


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