Last year, a much-discussed study that might as well have been titled "That Was Obvious, This Was a Waste of Time" revealed that the more mainstream online content you read, the worse you write. People who consumed primarily digital content (Buzzfeed, Reddit, probably Rooster Magazine), had grossly lower writing complexity scores than those who spent time reading literature and academic journals.
"If you spend all your time reading Reddit, your writing is going to go to hell in a handcart,” the study's lead author Yellowless Douglas said. “You should be very choosy — and highly conscious of the impact — of what you read."
"No shit" is an appropriate reaction to this information, but, it does bring to attention a worrisome trend: the internet is making us really dum. Wait, dumm? Dumb?
It's not just shitty online content that's dumbifying you, me and the children, though. All across the great expanse of the interwebs are pockets of highly entertaining stupidity that are taking a shark-sized bite out of our IQs on a daily basis, without our even noticing it.
And since awareness is the best path to no-no-stupidville, we thought we'd show you a few ways how this is happening. Yer welcum.
The "Google Effect"
According to an article by The Independent, over 90 percent of people suffer from digital amnesia, also known as the "Google Effect." For those of you who've read too many Buzzfeed listicles about which 50 Shades of Grey fetish item matches your true personality to know what that means, it's the experience of forgetting information that you trust a digital source to store and remember for you. For example: you could remember the formula for a circle's circumference, but … you could also just Google it. Because of how easy Googling is compared to memorizing millions of data, we forget valuable information all the live-long day because we're safe in the knowledge that any answer we need is just a click away.
Maria Wimber, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology believes this effect "makes us good at remembering where to find a given bit of information, but not necessarily what the information was. It is likely to be true that we don't attempt to store information in our own memory to the same degree that we used to, because we know that the internet knows everything."
That's exactly why you can't remember the name of the director that directed that one movie — what was it called? Or you can't quite retell the point of an important article you read … you know you read it and it impacted you, but you're not quite sure exactly what it said or how to articulate that to others. You = stupid!
You know how they say there are no stupid questions? Well, there are. And they're all on Yahoo Answers. All of them.
It's a mystery why Yahoo in particular has become the universal platform for people to ask questions like "Is pepperoni pizza vegetarian?" and "VERY POPULAR Techno Song? HELP!!! They play it in clubs?!!" but, some divine forces have coalesced to make it so, and it has now become the premiere place to showcase your brain waste to the rest of the world. When you do, others feel emboldened to share their deteriorating mental capacity as well, and this is where we enter into a positive feedback loop wherein we're encouraged to reveal our inner idiots, thereby normalizing dumbness on the internet. When it's normalized in that way, we don't notice our mental capacity being laid to waste — we simply think that's just how people talk now.
Need proof? Here:
Ask any schmuck on the street where the dumbest people online live and they won't hesitate to name-drop YouTube. Universally renowned for having some of the dumbest comments on the internet, YouTube is a malarial breeding pond for all types of imbeciles — from trolls to racists to privileged, yet negletcted white children named Gunther — all of whom seem to think some Korean girl's makeup tutorial video is the perfect place to be a dick. YouTube comments are so notoriously dumb, in fact, that entire blogs have been dedicated to them. Real people with real lives spend their days combing through the comment section on videos, searching for that one shit-diamond that'll get a rise out of people (and there are many), so they can make viral clickbait soup out of them at a moment's notice.
But, that's not to say their stupidity isn't entertaining. As we've previously outlined in an article entitled "Be the Internet Troll You Wish to See in the World," these people's grave misspellings and grammatical errors often have the opposite effect trolls want them to — instead of their comments being hurtful or incisive as they're intended to be, they act like boomerangs of stupidity, returning to crash into the commenter's face as their low IQ trollisms out them as mom's-basement dinguses.
However, this can be explained. As our society moves towards more visual representations of information, we adapt our communication to match the impersonal rapidity of video formatting — a quick funny video is not the place to get all deep and rhetorical, so people stick to quick, topical comments like "She has big titties hehe" because that's a.) the sort of mile-deep intellectualism most inane YouTube videos inspire, and b.) we're taught through video that interactions can be rapid, surface and for the purposes of entertainment, not intellectual advancement (although plenty of educational, mind-opening YouTube videos exist).
And now, to illustrate that point in the most hypocritical fashion humanly possible … a YouTube video! (A pretty good one, though.)
If Kellyanne Conway's now infamously made-up "Bowling Green Massacre" wasn't proof enough of how gullible the internet has made us, here are just a few recent headlines from the exploding world of fake news to illustrate how uninterested in fact or reality we've become:
Fake news itself is nothing new. Campaigns of misinformation have been around since Roman times, and the rise of propaganda in the 20th century — particularly during World Wars I and II — has made warping information to meet a political agenda a dangerous, but effective art. However today, it's how the internet and social media proliferate that fake news that's truly it that's novel. These days, publishing fake news is not only virtually cost-free, but also terrifyingly easy — anyone with a finger, or something close to it, only has to click a button or two to eject a miasma of fictitious bullshit into the ethers for their own entertainment or agenda. There's also hardly any oversight — before the internet, it used to be that if you wanted to publish something, it would be subject to fact-checking and accuracy analysis by the publisher or whatever platform it was going onto. Now, ain't no such thing. The First Amendment is the only oversight, and we all know the first rule of the First Amendment is you can say whatever the fuck you want … and post it online!
People's viral interest in such stories, and their staunch belief that they're real, tells the sadly hilarious tale of how naively impressionable the internet has made us — we believe that if something is on the internet, it must be true. If it's a video, it's even more so. We imagine there are standards internet content must reach in order to ascend to the high throne of "published online content," and we all awaken, covered in sweat from some wet dream that some sort of oversight committee that oversees what gets posted online. In reality, oversight happens after the story has been shared and rapidly consumed by millions of readers (on sites such as Snopes or reputable journalism outlets like The New York Times) … but those efforts are often too little, too late. The human-meat-in-the-Big-Mac story is out there, because it exists, people think it's true.
In what world do you need to be paying $800 for some used office furniture that the seller will only "ship" to you from Mongolia once he's "verified your identity" by asking for your social security number and blood type?
The world of Craigslist, that's where.
Craiglist is like a litmus test for idiocy. It toys with our sense of trust, testing whether or not we have high enough intelligence to judge whether a person or situation is bullshit or not. As the many stories of Craigslist scams show, we usually don't.
And now … the holy grail of internet idiocy … Pornhub comments.
Ah, yes. These are such gems, because they illustrate a very important point: the internet has made real life socialization feel so alien and uncomfortable, that people are turning to fucking porn comment sections for community.
Don't believe us? Here. Here's a very, very special interaction in which one commenter wonders if anyone here ("here" being a lesbian cheerleader video) knows a good lasagna recipe:
And then … and then! It went viral. It was a huge news story in 2015. Meanwhile, unarmed black men were being murdered by cops left and right, convicted rapists were walking free, Syria was (and is) happening, and Donald Trump became an actual political prospect. But did anyone care? No. They were too tickled by people's sexy lasagna talk to pay that any mind.
That's how the internet makes people stupid, you guys. Porn lasagna.
… And we're only saying that because you never put water on the pasta after it's done. Never.