Do you like magic?
The other day an interesting question popped into my head: Does the internet make you dumber? As I kept thinking about it, it dawned on me that it does. It’s the internet’s greatest trick. You and I are a part of it. Sadly, it’s not one we volunteered for.
In fact, it’s pretty sick.
It comes down to this: I believe the internet has made you and me really, really, really stupid, but not in the way you’d think.
The internet makes you dumb, because it creates the illusion of relevancy, control and creativity.
Let me explain.
The internet is a great place. A wonder of technology, it allows freedom at an unprecedented level and at a never-before seen speed. But it’s also a death trap.
While you’ve surely witnessed some of the potential drawbacks of the internet first hand, what I’m talking about isn’t as obvious.
The internet doesn’t make you dumb because it holds lots of bad information (which it does) or because it holds too much information (which it does). These things are obvious. But they’re just the little tricks – decoys, really – the internet employs to distract you from its grand illusion.
It takes place in three stages, and it leaves you irrelevant, with no options and kills your creativity:
- The relevancy illusion.
- The control illusion.
- The creativity illusion.
Let’s see what happens as you pass through them, using an example.
Imagine you want to start an Instagram account, grow it to 100,000 followers, build a brand, and potentially make a living from the money you generate with it, so you can finally quit your job.
The decision is made, Instagram it is! But of course, you don’t know the first thing about Instagram, and so, you turn to the interwebs.
Stage 1: More info ≠ more info that’s relevant to you.
Assuming you know how to tell good information from bad information (and that’s a big assumption, but we’ll make it anyways), that still doesn’t mean all the good information you find is relevant to you.
For example, before setting up your Instagram account, you might decide to learn more about the platform.
But even though the Wikipedia article about Instagram has its entire history in it and you find out a lot of interesting things about Instagram’s phenomenal user growth, or how its recent logo overhaul and design change caused a huge uproar, none of this is actually relevant to you starting an Instagram account.
We could also call this stage research procrastination, because you’re spending time getting smarter that should be spent getting started.
By chasing the illusion of relevant information, you end up losing tons of time instead of choosing a path of action and then taking it.
How do you combat this?
Before reading a blog post, news article, or Wikipedia page, always ask yourself: Is this relevant to me and what I’m trying to do?
Stage 2: More relevant info ≠ more relevant info you have to execute on right now.
Let’s say in your research you come across a step-by-step guide to optimizing your Instagram account, so it looks perfect.
That’s relevant now, isn’t it? After all, a perfect profile is part of your big vision of an Instagram account with 100,000 followers. Eager to get going, you follow the template and set up your profile. It takes a couple hours, but eventually, you get it done. You feel really proud, until you realize that you still have 0 followers.
Yes, this guide contained relevant information, but it wasn’t relevant right now. Instead, you should have started posting awesome and interesting photos, to do what matters most: grow. Timing is a crucial aspect of information, so just because something is relevant to what you’re doing, it still doesn’t mean you should execute it right now.
We could call this stage the control illusion, because stumbling across a relevant piece of information, and instantly executing on it makes you feel in control. It makes you feel like you’re choosing what to do next and that you control the outcome, when you’re really just executing the first sort of relevant advice that landed in front of you.
How do you combat this?
When finishing a blog post, news article, or Wikipedia page, always ask yourself: Is this something I should act on right now?
But let’s assume you saw past that. You figured it out. You saw this shiny, even relevant guide, and decided to ignore it, because the timing wasn’t right.
You’ve managed to circumvent both stage 1 and stage 2, but then you find the holy grail. A masterpiece. The complete guide to growing your Instagram account to 1,000 followers in 10 days.
That’s it, right? It’s valuable, it’s relevant, and it gets you exactly where you want to go. It even focuses on the most important part of your chosen path: growing your Instagram account.
That’s the kind of information you really need. A relevant piece at the right time.
But there’s one more problem.
Stage 3: More relevant info you have to execute on ≠ you’ll create something valuable.
A step-by-step guide to get your first 1,000 followers on Instagram seems like the perfect resource if you decide to build an Instagram account and earn money with it.
But this is where the internet’s last trick, the grand illusion, comes in.
No matter how relevant a piece of information is, no matter how perfect the timing, and no matter how much control it gives you over the outcome – basing your actions on someone else’s information does not guarantee that you’ll create something of value.
For example, guides like the one in this example always reflect the experience of the person who wrote it. Whatever they outline is what’s worked for them. But that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you and it surely doesn’t mean what you’ll do ends up being of value to others.
Yes, you’re doing something, and yes, you’re choosing something – but what you’re choosing is just a recipe.
Even if you put a twist on it, at the core it’s still someone else’s creativity you’re using, not your own.
Steve Jobs once said:
Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.
The same holds true for the web. Just because someone has gained 100,000 followers on Instagram doesn’t make them smarter than you. It makes them different.
But by now, the internet’s advice and recipe culture encourages the same behavior we’re taught in school or in college – to do what we’re told, follow instructions, and trust in other peoples’ authority.
Except that it’s much more subtle, because you get the feeling you’re choosing and using your own imagination to do things.
Sadly, in most cases, you’re not. You’re following someone else’s idea of what the right path should be.
All value is created outside the scope of what we already know. So if you’re posting motivational quotes to grow your Instagram account, you’ll only end up in a sea of competition. You’ll be doing the same thing everyone else does and are likely to end up with an account that’s no better, bigger, and surely not more valuable or unique than most others.
Following a recipe will almost always lead to something average. And as you know, average is for losers.
How do you combat this?
After reading something on the internet and deciding that it’s both relevant to you and the timing is right for you to use it, ask yourself: Is this something that requires a recipe?
Cutting your credit card fees in half with a simple call to your bank very much warrants using a script. Writing a blog post, taking a picture, or trying to create a new dessert, however, does not.
There are times to use recipes and there are times to invent them.
I implore you: Whenever you can, please, invent them. Think for yourself and don’t fall for the internet’s greatest trick.
Otherwise, you might rob us of your greatest act. And we really need you to perform.