Easy access to information is dumbing down students

“There is too much learning in books these days, and too little in the head.”

“There is too much learning in books these days, and too little in the head.” This was the opinion expressed by The Tailor in The Tailor and Ansty way back in the 1930s. If it was bad back then, it has reached new heights nowadays. Our trigger-happy googling has left our poor brains distended with unprocessed information.

We watch prisoners dancing to “Thriller” in the Philippines, while at the same time half-reading about celebrity dogs and searching for funny quotes from films, so that we will seem funny by association.

We do not engage with any of this information. If something does not prove to be entertaining in the first thirty seconds, it’s discarded, never to be given a second chance.

This ease of access to information is contrary to how our minds work. Trekking out to library, finding the books you need and lugging them home takes time and effort. Expanding all that effort on finding your sources makes you value them more. The easier something is to do, the less your brain enjoys it.

In September, Scientific American Mind magazine linked the ease and convenience of modern life to the rising rates of depression. We are wired to feel satisfaction and happiness when we produce something tangible and meaningful through physical effort. The click of a button is not as satisfying mentally as the physical search for information.
I know from experience that using the Internet has changed how I think. I used to be the bookish sort, happy to curl up reading anything and everything.

Within five minutes I’d be immersed in whatever was being described in the pages, be it prose or merely prosaic. Those days are gone. Now, I find it more difficult to focus; my mind wanders.

If my book were a website, I’d navigate away in search of bigger thrills. It takes gargantuan effort to engage with the story. But I don’t like effort, I want instant gratification. I want links and pictures and video-clips and comments from other people telling me what they think I should think.

With access to the opinions of millions, you can lose confidence in your own. It doesn’t take too long to find someone on the Internet who has read more than you, or can write better than you, or just seems to be far more intelligent than you.
It can be easy to take other people’s opinions at face value in lieu of considering the facts on your own. The plagiarism epidemic that the Internet has facilitated is obviously rooted in laziness and a lack of understanding of intellectual property rights, but there is more to it.

Students don’t see the point in even trying when they can see all that is already out there. There is a feeling that other people’s words are better than your own, that other people’s opinions are more valid than your own and that even a bastardised version of someone else’s thought is better than an original thought of your own.

The Tailor believed that the place for learning and wisdom was in the head, not in a book or a website. So absorb what you read. Engage. The Internet has made it very easy to find out about anything that takes your fancy, but knowing things is not the same as wisdom. Any idiot can know things. It’s what you do with the information available to you that is important.