by Akim Reinhardt
We should all probably be a lot smarter by now.
The internet, more or less as we know it, has been around for about fifteen years. So if this magical storehouse of instantly accessible information were going to be our entrepôt to brilliance, we should all be twinkling like little stars. You and I should be noticeably smarter, and anyone under the age of twenty should be light years ahead of anyone who was ever under the age of twenty prior to the 21st century.
But, ya know, en masse, we're all about as fuckin' stupid as we've always been. After all, if we'd been getting smarter these last 15-plus years, you'd expect that humanity might have formed new and deeper insights into the nature of existence, and used those insights to update our collective goals: world peace, eliminating hunger, and flying taxis driven by cats wearing little chauffeur's caps. But not only haven't we gotten wiser and developed new collective goals, we haven't even gotten any cleverer and moved closer to achieving the same old ones we've always pined for. There's still the endless butchery of war and the terminal ache of starvation.
Of course, none of it's a surprise. There are at least two obvious reasons why the existence of a cheap, and even free storehouse of knowledge, the likes of which could not have even been imagined by most people a generation ago, has done little to make us all a whole helluva a lot smarter.
For starters, people can be lazy and superficial. Whether you prefer a Marxist interpretation, an existential one, or something equally incisive but less Eurocentric, the conclusion is the same: Lots of people are largely obsessed with chasing pleasure and shirking meaningful work. They'd rather read about celebrity gossip than learn about mechanical engineering or medicine. They'd rather indulge a neurosis or compulsion than work towards the common betterment. And they'd rather watch funny cat videos than try to figure out how those ghastly little beasts can better serve us.
This is why when you plop an unfathomably rich multi-media warehouse of knowledge in front of them, they'll mostly use it to wile away the hours on Facebook and Twitter. In much the same way that if you give them an actual book, and eliminate the social stigma that says books are sacred, instead of reading it they might be inclined to rip out the pages and make paper airplanes. The creative ones might set them on fire before pitching them out the window, in a quest to create a modern, aerial Viking funeral.
This helps explain why the internet is dominated by low-grade pornography.
That assessment is partly tongue in cheek, of course. Many people, perhaps most, really do treasure a lifetime of learning, at least to some degree. But putting that aside, there's another reason, beyond the too easy targets of human sloth and gluttony, which helps explain why the world wide web isn't making us that much smarter.