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2/22/2010
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3 In 4: Internet Makes Us Smarter

A survey finds most believe the Internet enhances intelligence; but critics say its use zaps critical thinking.

A survey of Web users and professionals found that a majority of them believe the Internet is making us smarter.

The Web-based survey of nearly 900 prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers found that three out of four believe the Internet "enhances and augments" human intelligence. In addition, two thirds of the respondents said the Internet also improves reading, writing and rendering of knowledge.

The survey was conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. The poll was motivated by tech scholar and analyst Nicholas Carr's 2009 Atlantic Monthly magazine cover story, entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

In a response to the survey, released Friday, Carr stuck by his original argument that the Internet shifts the emphasis of people's intelligence away from meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what he called "utilitarian intelligence."

"The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking," said Carr, who participated in the survey.

Other participants commenting on the survey disagreed, such as Craig Newmark, founder of Craigs's List, who said people use Google as an adjunct to their own memory.

"For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support, and Google comes through for me," he said. "Sometimes, I see I'm wrong, and I appreciate finding that out before I open my mouth."

Respondent David Ellis, a professor at York University in Toronto, Canada, said that instead of making people stupid, Google was reinforcing intellectual laziness among people satisfied with the top 10 or 15 listings from search queries.

"Like other major technologies, Google's search functionality won't push the human intellect in one predetermined direction," Ellis said. "It will reinforce certain dispositions in the end-user: stronger intellects will use Google as a creative tool, while others will let Google do the thinking for them."

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