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  1. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Internet Aftereffects: Has the Internet Made Us Smarter?

    Discussion in 'Debate Room' started by Andrae Smith, Mar 27, 2014.

    We are living in the digital age, the age of information. As such it's natural to wonder how we are being affected by the fast-paced, info-based lifestyle we've adopted.

    I came across a few interesting articles, which I will link you to below. You don't have to read them, but they might help contextualize things a bit. But first, here are my thoughts, as quoted from a conversation I've just had with my mom:

    Your thoughts? Anyone know of any recent studies?

    The Articles
    An article from The Wall Street Journal (2010)
    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704025304575284981644790098

    An article from gulfnews.com (2013)
    http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/is-the-internet-making-us-dumber-or-smarter-1.1241754

    an opinion piece from the University of Wisconsin's Steven's Point
    http://www.uwsp.edu/pointeronline/Pages/articles/Is-the-Internet-Making-Us-Stupid.aspx
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't have the time right now to read the articles, but they do sound interesting. I don't know about smarter/dumber, but certainly different in some ways. The big things that concern me are the conspiracy theories that get going, and how easy it is to spread misinformation. Any idiot can start a website and start spouting off complete nonsense or outright lies, and then people spread it around, and people don't remember where they read something, and it can become more legitimate in someone's mind. (The anti-vaccine movement comes to mind.)

    It's easier to get your voice heard, but on the other hand, there's a lot more noise, so it's harder to become a genuine well-known and respected voice. (Newspaper columnists are an example -- it used to be the big newspapers had them, and they drove a lot of conversation. These days, no one cares. Anybody can serve the function of a newspaper columnist. There are pluses and minuses.)

    That's kind of a different issue from the reworking of the brain, and I see that, too. For example, I used to know everyone's phone numbers. In fact, I *still* remember the phone numbers of some of my childhood friends from 30 years ago, even though I haven't dialed those numbers for at least 20 years. But I could not even tell you what the phone numbers of my current friends and neighbors are. I don't even know my husband's work phone number. They're all in my phone. I've had some panicky moments when I've been out and perhaps thought I'd lost my phone and keys, and thought I would be seriously f*cked, because even if a store or stranger let me use their phone, I wouldn't even know the numbers of friends to call to ask them to help me. What would happen in some kind of electronics apocolypse?

    I've heard it said that Einstein never bothered to remember information that he could look up, such as his phone number. I don't know whether that's actually true, but I've thought of it today. Back then it seems like it would have been unheard of not to know your own phone number. These days I could see it as a much bigger possibility. So what information are we storing in our brains instead of things like phone numbers?
     
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  3. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I don't have time to read them either, but I agree with Chicagoliz. And if anything, the internet has made us more reliant on sources other than our brain for information. Need to know something? Google it. Nothing is retained and stored in the mind anymore, and it's sad, especially when even writers rely only on the internet alone for information, and not libraries and actually talking to people face-to-face (no offence to anyone who does this; it's just my opinion).

    However, I'm sure studies have proved me wrong. It's just that I feel - while the internet has given us instant communication, a vast wealth of knowledge, and many pictures of silly cats - generally I don't think it's done us much good.

    Now, shall we hang around on the internet for a little longer? ;)
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not sure why having information at one's fingertips somehow means one remembers less. :confused:
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I skimmed the articles. No surprise, they report that there is a controversy. Of course there is, it sells the news.

    The answer is multifactorial, not a concept the news media is well suited to address. There are going to be effects of lots of information, of competing things seeking/drawing our attention, of multi-tasking, and all the changes in social interactions.

    There will be benefits and drawbacks. It may be too soon to see what side of good or bad the overall effect is going to be on.
     
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  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the increased ease of accessing information and knowledge about things can certainly make some more 'learned'...

    but being 'smart' = being 'intelligent' and i don't see how using the internet can increase one's basic intelligence...
     
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  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think as with everything, the internet has brought the good and the bad. As far as reducing our memory storage functions and attention spans, well, it also improves cognitive function of the elderly, keeping them alert and interested way beyond what was possible before the internet.

    I think much greater negative effects are seen in the interpersonal skills. We seem to be more comfortable sharing our emotions with people on the net and in real life we are increasingly wearing 'masks' for the fear of loosing our livelihoods if we express our true opinions. But also, we got the perfect outlet for every nasty feeling we can conjure up, we throw it onto the computer monitor without fear of any real consequences. I have seldom seen, outside psychiatric setting, the type of extreme bile, vitriol, anger, verbal aggression, as I see on the internet every day. That has detrimental effect on people's self-esteem and it gives bullies a perfect opportunity to bully who they want, when they want. Internet needs better regulation, not the kind governments are proposing, but regulation designed to allow free flow of information and protect from online abuse.

    As far as knowledge is concerned, I think the internet has rendered propaganda virtually obsolete. One hour every night given to the TV station to feed you opinions (the news) will soon be history. Anything can be checked on the internet, and different opinions can be heard, if one looks for them. Secrets can no longer be kept from the population like they once were. On the other hand, I see people resist the new responsibilities. Having the TVtell you what you should think is an easy way out that appealed to many. Now, ignorance can no longer be an excuse.

    But all this information isn't knowledge. A medical student will still have to go through med school, and even though he has a benefit of virtual simulations, virtual access to books and even real senior doctors, still, it's you and the patient and you have to know as much if not more than before, precisely because you are expected to know. Internet is here and none of us can ignore it. On the other hand, misinformation can spread like wildfire, and flood of facts and opinions can be used to overwhelm the important news and stories. I see people who googled their symptoms and come to me terrified about having some strange ailment, or trying to self diagnose, and this access to dry info with no context of knowledge of medicine can be very anxiety-provoking. On the other hand, once people are diagnosed and know what to look for, they can access advice, stories, support groups and so much more then before the internet.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
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  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Smarter? I don't think so. The illusion of being smarter? Absolutely. Some people read the Wikipedia entry for quantum mechanics and think that makes them theoretical physicists.
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There is a school of thought that exercising one's brain has similar effects as exercising one's muscles.

    While I'm not vouching for a study I've not seen there was this research reported in one of Andrae's links:

    That suggests there are at least some effects on one's brain function.

    My son was playing Putt-Putt computer games at age 3. While not the Net, it could have been. There are going to be plenty of kids growing their brains on the Net, not just those of us who began surfing as adults. It's worth studying the effects. I would be careful drawing conclusions from our gut reactions. I think conclusions should be based on research.
     
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  10. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Sorry, I didn't explain myself properly. What I'm trying to say is this: why remember something when you can just search it again if you need it, now that internet is on phones and tables so you can carry it practically anywhere? Granted the brain will always remember some new things, but you do have to actively learn and store things most of the time. I dunno, maybe it's just me. :rolleyes:
     
  11. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I think it is the same as asking, "If everything were lighter, would people be stronger?"
     
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  12. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, half of you are saying the internet increases our access to knowledge, and the other half of you are saying you don't have time to look at the linked articles right now? o_O
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Re:

    "In fact, the heavy multitaskers weren't even good at multitasking. They were considerably less adept at switching between tasks than the more infrequent multitaskers. "Everything distracts them," observed Clifford Nass, the professor who heads the Stanford lab."

    I find myself thinking that they've got cause and effect reversed. They conclude that heavy multitasking makes one easily distracted. Doesn't it seem more likely that being naturally easily distracted makes one a heavy multitasker?

    There also seems to be an assumption that Internet content *needs* to be shallow bite-sized information. But it doesn't. I don't see any reason to assume that the effects of bite-sized online nonsense are necessarily the same as the effects of long, deep, complex online material. If we studied avid readers of People magazine, would we conclude that the results would apply to avid readers of Dickens, because they're both printed on paper?

    There's also the fact that almost all offline content is written by professionals, while a substantial percentage of online content is written by amateurs. There's both good and bad in that--the average piece will be of lower quality, but on the other hand a lot of intelligent people who would otherwise go un-heard, can now be heard. Perfume criticism, to choose an example probably important only to me :), wouldn't really exist without the amateurs.

    Edited to add: I am annoyed by what I often see as enforced dumbness of Internet content--all those people who insist that nobody wants to read more than 500 words, make it shorter, make it snappier, fork over some bullet points!

    Yes, that might get some more readers. But are those people your readers? If your slow-food restaurant starts serving chicken nuggets and fries and more people come in, does that mean that your patrons always wanted chicken nuggets and fries, or does it mean that you've abandoned what was your real customer base?

    When I read a long, detailed online article and it seems like I've scrolled and scrolled and scrolled and I look at the scrollbar and I'm only halfway down--I'm delighted, not annoyed. (Though I'd like an easier and more totally universal way to do a "next screenful" in those long articles."
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    For what it's worth, it's not what I said. IMO, one should look at the research, the research is likely incomplete, and the effect is likely going to be mixed. And regardless of the research the news media is going to report there is a controversy even if there is not because that is what they sell.
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That was my thought as well, they didn't do a good job in the study controlling for other variables.

    In addition, what is more sound bite size than the mainstream media? If anything there are at least more options online.

    Depends on what one is reading. I've seen plenty of published garbage, and I don't mean fiction.

    But at the same time, it's fascinating that everyone has a (symbolic) microphone when it comes to the Net. Outside of the Net access to the microphones is limited. There is also the interesting phenomena of crowd sourcing and the blogosphere echo chambers.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Smarter? Nah. It has made information more available, but it hasn't made people any more discriminating about the quality of the information, or more adept at using it intelligently.

    If anything, it has made people lazier. They don't have to work to get answers (getting good or correct answers is another matter). And judging by blogs, forums, facebook, Twitter, and other popular venues, it has seriously degraded people's language skills, and I'm not LMAO.
     
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  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ah, but those people with really lousy writing are writing. I suspect that without the Internet their writing skills would be even worse. We wouldn't know it, because they'd never write at all, but I think it would be worse.

    I think that the Internet has increased both reading and writing, and I think that's good even if it's often not in a form that I have a lot of respect for.
     
  18. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    i have to disagree i think that the internet and texting and all forms of easiness lead to laziness if any reading skills have been picked up it is the ability to skim the first three sentences of any resource before moving on to the next page as far as i know letters do not capitalize themselves and two spaces does not mean a period forms what the hell is l337 speak anyway is the internet great for real academics to share information on a world wide stage of course it is but we are not talking about the true researchers we are talking about young people even beloved wikipedia has in its disclaimer that it should not be a work cited yet everybody uses it adversity creates strength using calculators in elementary school does not teach you how to think end rant-4\/\/3$0/\/\3-1
     
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  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm seeing from your profile that you're ten years younger than me, and I'm wondering if that makes a difference.

    When I was in high school, most kids read and wrote in school or for school. Period. Nowhere else. OK, sure, the nerds (of course including me) read books, and some others read magazines, and everybody received a newspaper, but kids, and for that matter the population as a whole, just didn't do much reading. And they really didn't do much writing. Email didn't replace paper letters; paper letters were long dead before email came along. As far as could tell--and I was admittedly a kid--an adult who didn't write as part of his job might essentially never write, beyond things like a note excusing a sick kid from school. An adult might not write any more than that from one year to the next.

    In college, I had access to dumb terminals, FTP, Usenet, and email. That was exciting, novel, a privilege of being a student.

    For a few years after school, we had text-based Internet access from a guy who had a Unix box in his garage. We dialed up. That was a little bit rare--most people we knew had no Internet access.

    Now everybody and his grandmother writes emails. Everybody writes. Yes, it's sloppy, lousy writing, but in my childhood most of those people would have been "done" writing when they graduated from high school or college. It's not worse than the writing they'd be doing without the Internet, because without the Internet they wouldn't be writing at all.
     
  20. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Does doing it wrong make it right?
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's better than not doing it at all.

    There's a chance, these days, that people will get peer pressure to write coherently. I've seen any number of forums where the incoherent writer hears complaints about his incoherence. Peer pressure to improve your writing is, as I see it, a new and a good thing.

    Even the kids writing in textspeak are writing to impress, seeking the right word (and perhaps the right horrible textspeak choice) to make an impact. I think that that attention to words may well help them to become competent writers when they get a job and have to write in complete sentences and include the vowels.
     
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  22. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Hmmm... Thank you all for contributing to the discussion. I appreciate the variety within the answers.

    @chicagoliz
    I like that you've mentioned the spread of information across the internet. It is becoming increasingly important that we look at everything with a critical eye because people are getting better at making nonsense appear factual. I'm surprised at how many people read The Onion headlines and think of it as real news. :confused:

    You also bring up a very common scenario. Most of us don't need to remember phone numbers anymore, so we don't devote the mental energy. We have no trouble recalling the ones that were already committed to memory, but the new ones are not stored. I think this can be applied on a larger scale.

    And your closing question is a good one, too. I think the brain is starting to work more like a directory, recalling sources of information, storing important information in one place (or set of places) and storing everything else in temporary spaces. I can't confirm this, but it seems to make logical sense considering how often new information replaces old.

    Now I can't exactly say that is a result of the digital era. A lot of the negative "effects" pointed to by critics seem to be regular in today's youth, leading me to believe that the digital world we "live in"/are creating only enabled what might have been a growing trend. If not, another possibility is that our increase in knowledge has allowed for rapid advancement that requires a different way of thinking than before.

    @GingerCoffee I agree that it may be too soon to draw any conclusions. Think of my proposed 'conclusions' more as hypotheses. We are observing changes in how we function, I and others propose that it has something to do with the internet, but further research is needed before we conclude anything. Further, I'm not sure we can label the effects as good or bad yet, if they truly are the effects.

    I do think that the digital era and over exposure to mass media and social media, coupled with the constant "connectedness" we have from carrying the internet everywhere does have a negative impact. As to whether it's physiological and not just social/behavioral is not quite clear. What @Thomas Kitchen said here seems to be true at least in terms of the youth generation:
    It's interesting that you mentioned Putt-Putt, as it is a good example of the digital advancement being a good thing (not to say that I'm calling it a bad thing). This brings me back to the question, though, "is it the internet or the way we use it that causes problems?" Just guessing, I'd say it's the latter.

    @mammamaia
    Well, as Ginger pointed out that there is this belief that the brain cn be exercised like other muscles in the body. In that sense, it will adapt to the kind of training or stress you put it under. Many believe that reading novels and other long, complex, patience-inducing work actually helps you "rewire" your brain for higher cognitive function. I need to do more studying on the technicalities of that, but if it's true, then I think time spent on the internet could of similar effects. Or perhaps the opposite effect if your time is spent on twitter and other rapid, highly engaging activities. If reading a noel were like training for a marathon, then maybe time on the internet (depending on where) is like training for sprints?
     
  23. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak
    @jazzabel, again, you are a genius... just brilliant. You've hit the nail on the head with what could be the largest drawback of the digital era so far. Aside from our constant "interconnectedness" (which could be good or bad), the internat has provided an open platform for all kinds of people to say all kinds of things. I've seen people use the internet to bully, and let me tell you I went off the next time I saw those people in person. I've met people, often by chance, who claimed to be on the verge of suicide due to people on the internet.

    The anonymity it offers really has people thinking that hey can say whatever is on their mind. In that sense the internet, at least the social sphere of it, has become something of a live streaming thought repository. This leads me to another issue. Due to the rise in social media and personal interest in sharing thoughts, pictures and all sorts of things, is it possible we're pulling down too many boundaries? I don't mean this in a paranoid, "omg tmi" sort of deal, but rather we are becoming dependent on sharing our lives via the internet? Every thought, or feeling ends up on facebook or twitter or one of the other places. Entire lives are built around completely controllable identities.

    As you said our interpersonal skills are at risk, especially as we try to interact in person. My writing voice is far stronger than my speaking voice. I can say something clearly and confidently here on the forum, whereas I may take a few moments to gather my thoughts or find the right words in person. I may even be a bit more reserved. We build friendships based on idle chats and likes, but don't know how to get passed hello in person. It's confusing and somewhat backwards.

    @Garball
    Thanks for the excellent example. However, I hesitate to call this a product of the internet. If anything, digital interaction has supported and enabled the spread of this sort of atrocity, but I feel like it is more the product of laziness being enabled than people expecting things.

    You raise a good point about people's writing skills. However, I think I will side with ChickenFreak in that few people read and write outside of school. If anything, the internet gets more people reading and writing, just not anything of valuable capacity if you ask me. Most of these people know how to write better than this, but not all of them can write anywhere near the level that you'll find hear or in college. That, I blame on the school system. Still I've found some really smart people, even good writers who can (somehow) stomach writing like this because it's faster and easier and people will still understand it. It just removes the punctuation that is generally invisible when reading (though still very important in my book).
     
  24. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to find a way to let your writer's voice and your ....voice's voice (???) merge. That means being actively engaged and alert. If its writing, you type with clarity, intent, and authority. If its speaking, you do it slow and articulate to achieve the same exact effect. If you're writing, you engage with the material from your thoughts, experiences, and the platonic realm. If you're speaking, you engage with the material from your thoughts and experiences as well the person you're speaking to, especially with the intent to draw connections.

    Its a bit baffling what you say because I would have thought as you develop a stronger writing voice, that this would directly translate into a stronger speaking voice, not only because of the comparisons made above, but because of an increase in confidence and authority, the result being an erect chest and calm powerful voice. Your voice is your voice and it should want to get out all over the page, into the ears of your peers, and all over your WF buddies computer screens in equal amounts
     
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  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's likely most of us have been fooled from time to time. I give you the Landover Baptist Church site as an example. I don't think one or two instances of being Poe'd makes one a fool.

    OTOH, people who regularly believe Internet nonsense are another story.

    For the record, the teachers at the preschool my son went to were impressed he understood Putt-Putt while the other kids his age didn't actually get it. He could also type his name when the other kids his age didn't recognize the letters on the keyboard. I was and still am a proud Mom. ;)
     
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