Most experts agree that the Internet and USENET won’t make us stupid. Now there is proof. USENET newsgroups report that a good 76% of technology stakeholders and critics interviewed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University believe that the Internet and the online worlds such as USENET will enhance human intelligence by 2020.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project and the Internet Center at Elon University teamed up to survey 895 experts about the future of the Internet and its effect on human intelligence. The survey required them to assess 10 different “tension pairs” – each pair offering two different 2020 scenarios with the same overall theme and opposite outcomes – and to select the one most likely choice of two statements.
Although a wide range of opinion from experts, organizations, and interested institutions was sought, this survey, fielded from Dec. 2, 2009 to Jan. 11, 2010, should not be taken as a representative canvassing of internet experts. By design, the survey was an “opt in,” self-selecting effort.
Out of the online experts surveyed, 81% agreed with the statement “as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices.” In contrast, 21 percent of the respondents believe the Internet and USENET will be responsible for lowering the IQs of those who use it frequently. The survey also revealed that 42 percent of experts think that anonymous online activity will be cracked down on by 2020, due to tighter security and ID systems used online. Another tally reported on newsgroups showed that 55 percent believe it will still be fairly easy to surf the ‘Net and Newsgroups anonymously by then while a contrast of 16 percent said that dependency on them was making people dumber. Four percent choose to keep their opinions to their selves.
Some of the respondents worked or were affiliated with tech companies such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft, while others came from universities and federal organizations or were identified by Pew as “Internet veterans,” many of whom have been online for more than a decade.
The survey was conducted with the Imagining the Internet Center at North Carolina’s Elon University. It responded in part to last summer’s Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, in which author Nicholas Carr had argued that the ease of online searching and the distractions that come up when you browse online were possibly limiting people’s ability to concentrate.