Technology makes us stupid

New forms of media have always terrified people of moral decline: whether printing press, newspapers, paperbacks or television - they have all been declared to be threats to the intellectual performance and strength of character of their consumers.

It is the same with digital technologies. PowerPoint, it is said, reduces discourses to mere bullet points. Search engines lowered our intelligence by seducing us into acquiring knowledge only superficially rather than delving into its depths. Twitter purrs our attention spans together.

But such fears often do not stand up to the simplest reality tests. At the same time that comic books were accused of criminalizing teenagers in the 1950s, crime rates fell to record lows.

Debate stupidity with increasing IQ

Video games were being demonized in the same way in the 1990s, just as America's historically great decline in crime rates began. The decades of television, transistor radios, and music videos were also decades in which IQ levels rose steadily.

For an up-to-date exam, one only needs to take a look at the state of the natural sciences. They require a high level of intellectual performance, and the number of new discoveries can be measured here as a clear evaluation criterion.

Today's scientists hardly ever leave the realm of their e-mails, they rarely pick up a sheet of paper, and they cannot give lectures without PowerPoint.

Flowers of spiritual life

If electronic media were to endanger intelligence, scientific quality would have to plummet long ago. But new discoveries and inventions are emerging at the speed of fruit flies; the progress is breathtaking.

And other areas of intellectual life such as philosophy, historical research and cultural criticism are just as flourishing as anyone who has already lost a morning of their working hours to the "Arts & Letters Daily" website can confirm.

New media critics occasionally turn to science itself to support their position. They then cite research that supposedly shows how "experiences change the brain".

Our brain is not a ball of clay

But in cognitive neuroscience, talking like that just rolls your eyes. It is true that our brains rewire itself every time we acquire a fact or ability. After all, the information is not stored in the pancreas.

But the fact that neural plasticity exists does not mean that the brain is a lump of clay that is only knocked into shape through experience.