The Internet Makes Us Dumb and the Importance of Reading Books

The internet makes us dumb but gives us the sense that we are smart. We offload stuff we used to have to keep in our brains. Who was the president right before Lincoln? Wait a second... Buchanan! See how smart I am? Thanks, Google! Wikipedia and Google do a wonderful job of providing us all the information we could possibly want at the tips of our fingers. But because the information is at the tips of our fingers, it is not in our brains. So, when we think about history, we do not think about the context of the Civil War or who was president and when. We don't think about it because we feel we do not need to. I can access that information any time I want and therefore that information is not in my head it is in my fingers. And we cannot think with our fingers. So, counter-intuitively, having access to all the information in the world causes a reduction of information in our brains rather than an increase. 
Books, on the other hand, have a way of getting that information in our heads. Read a book on the Civil War, and the details will sink in and stick there. You might not remember every date, but you will remember the themes and the context. Books, unlike the internet, will make you smarter. They will give you a head knowledge rather than a finger knowledge. And this is needed in the world right now.

What about articles, documentaries, and Youtube clips? Are they a substitute for reading books? I do not think so. Articles, unless they are long New Yorker length essays, are unable to provide the same level of argumentation, context, and interaction with the details to adequately make a case for anything truly important. I have seen too many examples of two articles in competing (reputable news sources) making opposite claims. Articles are usually less researched, more subject to speculation, and more likely to be irrelevant before long. I think in some ways, articles are the most dangerous to the brain because they make us think that we have internalized good information when in reality we have internalized poorly researched, hurriedly written, and inadequately argued content filler. 

Note: I write this, unironically.... in an article! I'm just St Margaret of Antioch-style, killing the beast from within! 
So, what we have today is perhaps the dumbest generation in modern history who happens to think that they are the smartest generation. Because, in a few seconds, I can tell you the capital of British Columbia (Victoria! I am so smart).  

Not all books are good of course. It is possible to read a book by an idiot and get filled with garbage -  long form. But at the very least, books are a medium that is ABLE to actually pass on wisdom. I would argue that Wikipedia, Google, articles, documentaries, and Youtube are not. 
So, if you have read this far, this is my encouragement to all of you to stop reading all articles except for mine. I promise I will take these articles and make them a book.... so consider my page a long book you are reading.

Stop using Wikipedia and Google. If you find yourself saying, “I am going to google who the guy before Lincoln was…,” stop. Shut your laptop and go to the Library. Buy a book on the lead up to the Civil War. Read. Be smart. Take the endless information available to us, get it out of your fingers and start putting it in your brain.

By the way, books, unlike articles, often become more relevant with time. No one reads a newspaper from just two weeks ago. But pretty much every book holds up for at least a few years. And the best books hold up for centuries. You can still read Aristotle. You can still read Alexis de Tocqueville. You can still read Dostoevsky. The ideas, philosophies, and even the histories and science when put down in book form often have enough wisdom to last for generations. As a matter of fact, a good principle on reading is to choose books that have been around for a while.


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