Thursday, 17 October 2013



One of my protagonists in Invent-10n, Anna Nitko, is of the opinion that the citizens of the Western world are less intelligent than their forebears. The reason she cites for this diminution in intelligence is the triviality of much of the Net’s content causing a general erosion in the cognitive abilities of humankind, this signalled by a reduction in attention span and the facility for deductive reasoning. According to Anna, netizens – denizens of the Internet – have evolved a butterfly mentality, flitting from idea to idea, only able to think of the here and now and not of the future. According to her the Net hasn’t sponsored the emergence of what Pierre Levy called ‘a collective intelligence’ – the development of a well-informed world of netizens – but rather a ‘collective stupidity’ where people are driven to believe nonsense by the pressure exerted by social e-networks. They had come to fulfil Galton’s prediction that humanity would regress towards mediocrity.

Further, Anna contends that without the constant – but demanding – striving of humankind to improve itself intellectually the process of discovery had stalled and with it the development of the new technologies and ideas which fuel productivity growth. Her proposition is that this IQ-regression is the real cause of Solow’s productivity paradox (the observation made by US economist Robert Solow that the computer can be seen everywhere but in the productivity statistics, this intimating that the Digital Revolution had failed to provide the positive impact on economic growth and productivity experts had expected). Her proposition was that the so-called Flynn Effect – the long-term improvement in humanity’s IQ – had gone into reverse.

Pure fiction, of course, and I have to admit that I wrote it somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Sure I was aghast by how ill-informed my daughters’ generation was but this I put down to the rotten state of British schools. Then, early in October, the OECD released its report on adult literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills where English 16-24 year-olds performed so abysmally (ranked 22nd out of the 24 countries tested).

Consider first that FOR THE FIRST TIME the 16-24 year-old cohort performed worse than the 55-64 year-old cohort (the younger generation had ALWAYS out-performed the old). Consider second that the 16-24 year-old group is the most e-savvy and the most e-obsessed.

Could these two be linked? There has been some speculation that the Flynn Effect was running out of steam but I never thought it would have this sort of impact or have it so quickly.

Maybe Anna Nitko was right!

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