Impact of the Internet on Critical Reading and Writing Skills

February 23, 2010, Angie Barnett

Impact of the Internet on Critical Reading and Writing Skills

If you are reading this article—you, like many others, probably spend a lot of time on the internet. But what is this habit doing to you and your literacy skills? Recent research now lets us know.

What the Research Says

Researchers have conducted studies that they believe prove the internet has ‘rewired’ the way our brains absorb information.

When you are searching the internet how long do you think you spend on a single page? (Hopefully, you’re still on this page at this point!) Probably not very long. The internet offers so many gateways to other pages, that it has made it difficult for us to focus on one piece of information at a time.

In other words: the internet is making us all a little more A.D.D.

Associative Thinking

Experts describe this habit of darting from page to page as “associative” thinking. They have especially noticed this habit in younger children, who are comparably less focused on studying, reading, and writing than the age group was when measured in the past. This is damaging to reading ability because it decreases our ability to comprehend what we read.

Here is a broadcast from NPR about the internet’s impact on our brains:

Conflicting Opinions

Some psychologists disagree with these findings and assert that there is no evidence of our brains being changed by the internet.

The contenders point out that young people have always had a hard time concentrating, thus the findings are not reliable. It is possible that the discrepancies in the findings between adults’ and children’s reading abilities are not a result of the internet, rather the difference is a result of the two groups being at different stages of brain development.

Another way researchers believe the internet has impacted our critical thinking abilities is that we now use less reliable sources to learn about new ideas. We often accept any article as fact. They found that students now do less research before answering a question. They also found that they trusted their friends for answers more than adults. They attributed this habit to being a result of internet exposure, but it could simply be that children are more trusting and less skeptical.

There is another argument as to whether the internet as a main source of information, will make us more intelligent or if the quality of our intelligence and education will decline.  Although experts agree that the internet changes literacy- they do not agree with whether it is for the better or worse of society.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Institute reveals what people think about the internet’s impact on our intelligence. 76% of the respondents agreed that the internet makes us more intelligent by providing access to more information thus allowing us to make better decisions.  21% of the respondents thought the internet does not make us more intelligent and might even lower our IQs.

Quotes About the Internet and Literacy

“I’m at the Digital Media and Learning conference this week, where no one would suggest the Internet and search engines are making kids less smart. It does create new issues of literacy, in the same way, that the printing press created new capacities and standards of literacy.” –Alex Halavais, vice president of the Association of Internet Researchers

“What the Net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence, away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence. The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking.” -Nicolas Carr, Author of “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google”

“An adult’s IQ can be influenced much either way by reading anything, and I would guess that smart people will use the Internet for smart things and stupid people will use it for stupid things in the same way that smart people read literature and stupid people read crap fiction.” –Sandra Kelly, 3M Corp.’s Market Research Manager

As you decide to rely more on the internet to build your intelligence and literacy skills be sure to choose sources that encourage you to use the internet for “smart things.”


Learn how you can help students improve their literacy skills with a data-driven reading curriculum


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