The internet has greatly transformed individuals’ lives by granting convenient access to information that was previously confined to libraries or personal collections. Nowadays, a straightforward search on a search engine enables people to swiftly locate the information they require. Furthermore, conventional means of communication like phone calls have been supplanted by alternative methods such as email, instant messaging, and Skype. These progressions have facilitated individuals in connecting with others irrespective of their whereabouts.
Nicholas Carr discusses the impact of the internet in his article titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. The article focuses on how the internet affects our thinking patterns, such as attention spans and critical thinking skills that were once necessary for analytical thinking.
One noteworthy passage emphasizes the value of deep reading facilitated by printed pages. This type of reading not only allows us to gain knowledge from the author’s words, but also triggers intellectual thoughts within our own minds.
In the peaceful moments created by dedicated reading or contemplation, we form our own connections, deductions, and comparisons, nurturing our own thoughts and ideas. Carr accurately points out that the internet contains distractions that are absent when reading a book. However, his implied claim that knowledge gained from traditional print media holds more substance compared to the internet deserves consideration.
The internet offers greater accessibility to knowledge-based information, promoting critical thinking and intellectual development beyond traditional constraints. It serves as a platform that provides access to individuals who are usually excluded from conventional methods of gathering information. Unlike printed media, which is only accessible to those privileged with access and literacy, internet resources are available to anyone with a computer and $20 for a monthly subscription, a library card, or $5 for an hour at a coffee shop.
Statistics Canada (2007: 17) states that a considerable portion of the Canadian population lacks sufficient literacy skills to fully comprehend written material, as revealed by the International Adult Literacy Survey. However, the internet provides a solution. Information-rich websites frequently incorporate embedded links to activities, videos, and simulations that can aid individuals with lower literacy levels in better understanding the content.
According to the International Adult Literacy survey, individuals who use computers typically scored higher in prose literacy, which is defined as the ability to understand and apply concepts from text (Statistics Canada, 2005). The internet has the potential to enhance individuals’ understanding of concepts through the use of multimedia beyond the static images found in traditional books. As a result, the internet serves as a more inclusive medium for transferring knowledge than traditional print media.
Despite facilitating the transfer of information, there are concerns about how the internet interprets and understands this information. The interpretation of information sourced from the internet is not significantly different from traditional print media. Like previous revolutionary technologies, the internet has its critics and doubters. While information is easily accessible via the internet, unlike encyclopedias or technical journals, it lacks an editor and a structured peer review process to filter out incorrect information.
Academic journals and scientific publications undergo review and editing; however, there are few barriers in reality to prevent individuals from publishing their own ideas in traditional print media. If one has the means, they can print literature containing messages of hate or misinformation. Two examples are Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and L. Ron Hubbard’s writings on Scientology. Many see the Bible as guiding parables, while others believe the words within to be directly communicated by God (Believers. rg; Godandscience. org). These examples demonstrate that readers of written text and web-based text, such as blogs, online forums, and Wikipedia, can fall into similar fallacies of thought. The main distinction between written text and the internet is the reach of these ideas. Like with print media, it is up to the individual to understand the message and gain knowledge through their interpretation of ideas. According to Carr, hyperlinks, advertisements, and other distractions on the internet diminish the value of the message.
Individuals process information differently and may be distracted by various elements, including flashing banners and pop-up windows that promote online poker games. However, it can be argued that those who approach information critically, regardless of its source, will still question and evaluate the information they gather from the internet. Just as a reader may get distracted by a bird or falling leaves while reading a book, distractions can occur while exploring informative websites or participating in activities to “Win an iPod.” To gain knowledge from the internet, one must analyze information carefully and distinguish truth from falsehood. It is understandable that Carr believes the internet’s vast amount of information, both true and false, contributes to a lack of real knowledge. However, contrary to Carr’s assessment, it can be argued that the internet actually fosters critical thinking and intelligent thought. According to Gates, the internet surpasses books in its ability to provide knowledge and information; moreover, it enables people to access information worldwide without language barriers, as Beall and Topp and Gates point out.
Carr is right in stating that many individuals tend to consume information without deeply pondering its significance or the circumstances in which it is presented. It is worth considering if these same people would approach and evaluate information from a book in any different manner. The internet has created an environment where individuals are urged to think critically and acquire knowledge from the ideas shared through its platform (Gates). Contrary to Carr’s belief, the internet has expanded the group of individuals who analyze and comprehend the meaning behind published information.
There will always be individuals who accept things superficially; the internet cannot eliminate or cure ignorance. However, the internet will grant a larger population the opportunity to access information, which can lead to acquiring knowledge. Bill Gates believes that the internet is still in its early stages and has not fully demonstrated its capabilities but assures that it will transform people’s lifestyles (2000). The internet can enhance the lives of numerous individuals and empower them to acquire knowledge through unconventional methods.
The internet does not hold the solution to all the world’s problems, but it does have the ability to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of humanity and the world they live in. Some people are always apprehensive about any disruption to the established order, just as there were concerns about the printing press, science, and theories of evolution. However, despite these concerns, the internet has not caused catastrophic consequences, and recent developments like the Arab Spring demonstrate its potential to bring about positive change.