Baidu’s Kaiser Kuo spoke recently in a debate in Hong Kong against the the argument that the internet was making us stupid. “What are we gaining by having all this near-instantaneous access to information?”, he asks in a transcript published in Adage.
Fretting over the changes the internet has brought to our intellects is a bit like an ancient Sumerian reciter of the Gilgamesh €epic lamenting the spread of cuneiform…
Do any of us honestly believe that our powers of concentration are enhanced by multitasking? Of course not. The question is, what are we gaining by having all this near-instantaneous access to information, and does it in some sense outweigh what we give up in sustained concentration? What we gain is the ability to place what we do read in a vastly richer context, and to supply ourselves instantly with a variety of perspectives.
Not only that, but the internet gives us the ability to interact—at virtually no cost, and across vast distances—with other individuals; and of course it gives us the ability to participate, ourselves, in discourse. This social, interactive dimension of the internet can’t be dismissed as just another source of distraction. It’s the ability to collaborate in real time, to compare, to debate. That kind of connection and combination–that’s a rich primordial soup out of which emergent phenomena are apt to arise.
Much more at Adage, but we do not want to skip over his closing words:
It’s one thing for middle-aged guys like us to talk about the internet making us stupid, but remember that we’re all digital immigrants. Look to the digital natives and you’ll see these new cognitive skills at work. I was fortunate enough to have a brilliant 20-year-old Stanford student intern for me at Baidu this summer. He was so at home with information abundance, so fast and efficient that he reminded me painfully that I was born in a different land and a different era.