Now that many of us are connected to the Internet at all times, via our smartphones or computers, is it time to redefine what intelligence means?
Using the traditional measure of intelligence, two people who score the same on a standard I.Q. test are said to have the same level of intelligence, more or less. But what if one person has Internet access all the time, and the other has none? Can we truly say the person with no Internet access is just as smart?
We usually consider the question of intelligence separate from the question of Internet access. That made sense until the Internet found its way to my phone. Now the Internet and I are virtually inseparable. Ask me the capital of Moldova and I’ll tell you it is Chisinau. Ask me to tell you the word for sweet potato in Vietnamese, and I’ll tell you it is lang. Bam. It takes me less than ten seconds to answer most questions.
Now suppose you compare two people who have the same I.Q. scores, and both have blazing fast Internet connections, but one person is great at searching for information on the Internet, and interpreting it, and the other isn’t so good. Now which of the two people is smarter? I would argue that the person who has the better Internet skills is effectively smarter, and possibly by a wide margin. Internet access means nothing if you don’t know how to use it.
Consider two people with equal I.Q. scores, and equal Internet connections, but one knows about www.snopes.com and the other does not. If you’re like me, you spend a fair amount of time directing your misguided friends and family members to snopes.com to squash their misconceptions. Simply knowing that snopes.com exists is the equivalent of learning an entire subject in school. The Internet is an intelligence multiplier, but only if you know how to use it.
If a typical extra-smart person twenty years ago had an I.Q. of 140, that same person connected to the Internet today has a functional I.Q. of 10,000 or more. (I realize it doesn’t work that way, but you get the idea.)
I’ve always questioned why traditional I.Q. tests are timed, but let’s assume someone has a good argument for why the person who gets the right answer in ten seconds is more intelligent than the person who takes a few seconds longer. Extending the speed-is-intelligence argument to the Internet, could you say the person who is a fast typist, and therefore can do a Google search faster is also more intelligent?
Measuring intelligence is a messy business because every form of natural talent (musical, artistic, social, etc.) can be defined as intelligence. You never get a pure apples-to-apples comparison of two people. But that said, I would argue that the Internet-connected person who knows how to search for information and interpret it is infinitely more intelligent than the person who has no Internet connection, or isn’t skilled at using it.
If you have a smartphone with you at all times, and someone asks your I.Q., say it is somewhere in the 10,000 to infinity range. If you are met with skepticism, send the doubter a link to this blog entry.