Begging the question in the "Are gadgets making us dumber?" debate

This issue of whether technology enriches or impoverishes our intellectual capacity is by no means a simple one, and while my position is pretty much fixed, it’s good to read others’ opinions on the subject, whether in agreement or not with myself. This little post at TechDirt summarizes the side of the debate I’m on pretty well, and has some links to other, more in-depth examinations of the subject like this interesting article on the ways information technology is affecting the ways we interact with, well, information.

The gist is that the question of whether technology makes us smarter or dumber is not really even a valid question — it supposes a legitimate judgment on the nature of intelligence which no one can make with authority. Instead, it’s more worthwhile to investigate how the ways in which we “know” things are changing. The concepts of a “backup brain” or cloud brain, or somewhat tangentially a collective consciousness are all salient to the discussion, and unfortunately there’s no Reader’s Digest version that gives an easy answer – the closest thing to a rational discussion of this are things like Neuromancer and Ghost in the Shell. It’s like the ancient Chinese curse/blessing: “May you live in interesting times.” These certainly are interesting times, but they sure as hell aren’t simple.