Last month, I talked about how technology affects children. Today, let’s look at grown-ups.
The most marvellous aspect of the human brain is its plasticity. Unlike any other animal, we have the potential to reinvent the way we think. Not on evolutionary time scales, but over the course of mere months.
There’s an argument that in today’s digital world, this plasticity is a double-edged sword. The loss of deep reading – the ability to immerse oneself in a long piece of text – is often cited as a consequence of the instant information available via the internet. Furthermore, we’re losing the ability to memorise, only remembering where to look stuff up. Wikipedia often gets dragged up when deep reading is invoked, as if it weren’t one of the most amazing resources on the planet, but some kind of witch’s trick to make us all very thick.
Deep reading fears are usually levelled at teens, but there are adults out there who say, “Yes, this is affecting me too.” And I count myself amongst them. Always possessed of the most friable level of concentration, now I can’t do anything for longer than two minutes without refreshing my email or reading stories about shark attacks.
The internet, and the technologies that allow us to access it, is phenomenal. It will go down as one of the greatest human inventions of all time. Of course it’s changing the way we think, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All new technology gets bad press – like the first trains, warned sternly against by those who believed the human body could not withstand such blistering speeds. Think of the introduction of a device and you can find a scare story to go with it.
As with all technology, the internet can be employed for good and bad. Using the internet effectively for learning requires willpower. Nonsense news is addictive, getting sidetracked by tempting links and spuriously connected bits of information all too easy. “When was Descartes born? Oh I see, 1596… Hang on, shark attack! [Click]” You have to stow all that and try to keep yourself focused.
While thinking about writing this blog, I came across an article on the neuroscience debate. I recommend you read it. It has a number of opinions from serious thinkers on this very topic.
And then I was drawn away by a link to this.
Man, that’s one funny dog.