Does the internet make you smarter? Can Social media too?

Does the internet make you smarter?

Does the Internet make you smarter? to be honest, is a popular search term on Google shared by millions of people around the globe. Going by the  Search engines parlance, this is a long keyword and the search trend for this keyword is rising.

After all, all of us, if not some of us have spent half of our lives surfing on the internet. My 8-year-old daughter is no newcomer either to the internet. Just like other eight-year-olds on this planet, she spends about 3-4 hours a week watching Youtube and playing games on the internet. Well, I decided to gather some information.

Does the Internet make you smarter? the straight answer is, Yes.

Logging on could spark a little bit of genius in all of us.  When you bounce your thoughts and share your knowledge with others, there is every chance that new ideas can come into this world.

Thinking is not solo anymore

But there still exists some contradictions on this subject around the world. Probably in the past, thinking alone and gazing at the stars would result in a sudden epiphany of sorts, a flash, a spark or a light bulb moment. Well, that was the past. A popular belief that emerged partly from passed on stories and life histories of some of the inventors.

Increasingly, there is research pointing out that new ideas and innovations do not stem from a single moment of euphoric thought but from bouncing and successive iteration of ideas over a period of time.

It all starts with a slow hunch says Steven Johnson, the author of the best-selling book  “Where do good ideas com from”, you can find his TED talk show here. And still Clive Thomson, the author of the popular book  “Smarter than you think” is very optimistic on the use of social media. A good review on the book can be found here from Newyork Times.

You can also read our blog post:  The age of social media: Our participation makes it a way of life

The current trend of using social media for mere trivia and gossip would change. Instead, people would find interesting and creative ways to spend their time on the internet. This includes thinking differently and solving new problems by sharing and bouncing ideas with each other.

There is nothing to fear from Facebook and Twitter.

Associate trails of the web is analogous to the human brain

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet architecture. The simplicity and the beauty of the Web lie in its interconnected hypertext Webpages. The web pages are connected through a primary channel called the link.

Lee, however, drew some of his ideas for the web from the Memex. The Memex was an information storage system that was first described by the inventor, Vannevar Bush. The system works analogously to how the human brain works.

Just as how the human brain indexes new ideas and information through associative memory for later use,  the internet system connects information web pages through certain cues (Hypertext links) thereby creating associative trails for ease of access and for later use. This brings us to understand a bit on how ideas pop up in our brain.

The human brain network is as complex as the internet

As Steve Johnson talks about it in his book, any idea that pops out of our consciousness is a work of millions of neurons in our brain all firing in sync with each other to produce an idea.

Neurons or the brain cells, thousands of them all work together and explore their adjacent cells. They see and talk to each other and connect to make it up in our mind. Pretty simple as it seems. Well, this is what happens, whether you are working on your new project or designing a new piece of fashion or thinking about a new ad line.

Nature sets us up with the two preconditions for an epiphany or for a sudden lightbulb moment to happen. The first one is the density of the network.

The human brain consists of about 100 billion neurons approximately. An idea does not pop up just by a couple of neurons firing up. There needs to be a dense network. A single neuron establishes a connection or synaptic links with thousands of neurons all around the brain.

With these synaptic link connections,  there are easily around 100 trillion distinct neural connections or synapses at any given moment in the human brain. All working in sync with each other.

Secondly, the network needs to be fluid. This means, that the neurons should be capable of forming new configurations and new connections at any given moment. The mere dense network is not enough. The network should be capable of forming newer connections or configurations. The neurons are capable of making those new connections or synaptic links all the time.

Any idea that pops out is actually a configuration or a collective assemblage of millions of new neural connections. A new dense connected network, so to speak.

Comparing it to the World Wide Web

As we compare this to the World Wide Web, there seems to be an interesting piece of information in an article on CNN which talks about the book “What technology wants”  authored by Kevin Kelly, the Founder of Wired Magazine. You can find the article here. You find the book here.

According to the author, the web has about a trillion pages, and the human brain only has about 100 billion neurons.  Let us say, a single web page has about 50 weblinks, this would make the World Wide Web to add up to a trillion synapses or interlinked web page connections.

In comparison, the human brain has 100 times more than that. That means we are 100 times smarter and complex than the internet.

That’s exactly the point.

To answer the question: Does the internet make you smarter?

It does not matter whether you have a dense network of a trillion pages on the Internet or 100 billion neurons in the brain. What matters, is the myriad neural connections that happen and fire in sync with each other at given moment in time. Such instantaneous connections in the human brain are what makes us smarter.

Social media and online communities have only enhanced this smart connection

Social media has played a huge role in the usage of the internet in the recent years. Particularly, it has eased the connections through personalized weblinks.

Let us suppose, I decide to post about a website which talks about affiliate marketing. You can find the website here. By doing this, I am contributing a new external review information to this existing web eco-system.  And there on,  people who read this article and follow this blog would also be able to follow this link to the website “Build yourself a better future”.

If found interesting, others may even tweet it or share it to their Facebook page and add even more viewers.  Some may draw information from it, some get inspired and spark an idea and still, others may just pass it on. But then, at the end of the day, it has served its purpose of disseminating a useful information. Information does not just flow in the web ecosystem but gets recycled for myriad different uses.

We see acts of altruism all the time on the internet. Blogger communities help people connect and showcase their content. One such place is the Myblogu community which helps people brainstorm and disseminate good ideas. As Nikola Roza, a blogger from the community, says that social media can turn a good idea into great and quotes “Two heads are better than one and ten heads are better than two”.

You need not have all the expertise in the world to get your job done. You just need to be smart enough and be social to ask for help or still better you just need to know ‘How to tweet’ and the internet takes care of the rest.

Does the internet make you smarter? – the final word

So it is the myriad neural connections or synapses that happen at any given moment is the key to wisdom and being smarter.

How or what causes these neural connections in the brain to form ? is a different story. But then, there are certain cues.

Placing yourself in an environment which can mimic the workings of the neural network, like exploring and making connections with what others have to offer is one good bet. And one such area which can make those associative links within everybody’s reach is the internet, its built-in dense networks, and communities.

 

 

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Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 43 years old. Founder, Loving dad and Husband. Worked as an IT Business analyst and program manager in several Fortune 100 companies.Alumnus at the University of Warwick, UK. I love the WWW and write on Social aspects of information, Social collaboration, Digital Sociology, Digital Humanities and Work life balance. I enjoy playing on the beach with my 9 year old daughter. I am open to your suggestions and comments.
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