An astute post at Mind Hacks about the cover story of Atlantic magazine, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. The main point — there is no evidence, no data, no study that supports the idea that internet use lessens attention spans, as the Atlantic article suggests. Mind Hacks writer Vaughn rightly points out:
While the Atlantic article warns against conclusions drawn from anecdotes, it is almost entirely anecdotal. Tellingly, it quotes not a single study that has measured any of the things mentioned as a concern by the author or anyone else.
The Mind Hacks also points to the problem of causality v. correlation problem. Are people that spend more time on computers less focussed, or are less focussed people more able to focus at a computer? One study demonstrated that ADHD video gamers were more able to focus while playing games.
Apparently there is no such study relating to internet use. Vaughn concludes:
In terms of any new technology, it’s obvious having tools to hand changes the strategies we use to solve problems, but so far, there is no strong evidence that Google, YouTube, Facebook or any other part of the web affects the fundamentals of how we think.
As the article mentions, concerns about new technology go back to Plato’s worries that writing will make people mentally dull because it encourages ‘laziness’.
The Mind Hacks piece contains a number of links to studies suggesting that video games actually enhance cognitive skills. But of course that’s not the same as internet use.