Sunday, March 25, 2007

Does email make us stupid?

Remember all those articles claiming that the distractions of email -- or for that matter checking blogs -- make us the operational equivalent of mentally retarded? I was skeptical. The implicit theory is that uninterrupted time in front of the terminal counts as active and valuable thought. But what is the alternative to email? Creating interruptions by making phone calls, or perhaps pacing the room? Scratching somewhere? I would think that the continual ability to indulge in short, self-managed interruptions makes us more willing to be at the terminal in the first place. In other words, we were mentally retarded to begin with. We are just active, and mentally retarded, more than before. And that looks like more mental retardation. The key to understanding email is the greater appearance of mental retardation, not the resulting decline in effective IQ.


Lee said...

Mark Liberman at Language Log covered the email/IQ thing a while back. Just to be clear (and it looks like you know this), the decline was in temporary effective IQ. Reading email is not like smoking pot, despite whatever junk science reportage CNN/BBC published.

Pug said...

From my own experience, I suspect emails/blogs may shorten some people's attention span because the brain gets into a mode of constant switching, or channel surfing.

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