Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle; that’s the intellectual environment of the Internet.
Nicholas Carr, first raised warning flags about the effect of the Internet on our thought processes with an article for The Atlantic in July 2008. His main concern in Is Google making us stupid? was the effect relying on the web as his main source of information had on his concentration. Calling upon studies by recognized authorities on the science of the brain he noted:
The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition…The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV.
When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is recreated in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.
Carr is not suggesting we ditch the Internet but rather that recognize its advantages and disadvantages. He admits that the seduction of technology is hard to resist but still needs to be understood for what it is.
The Huffington Post, likewise calls for an awareness of the pluses and minuses of excessive reliance on the Internet. Since I am personally well aware of MRIs, the image of these two brains is quite revealing.
The conclusion of this study is that there can indeed be some immensely beneficial effects of digital learning. However, one should remember that over-dependence on one nutritious thing to the exclusion other aspects of a balanced diet can cause serious health problems.
Most important to recognize is this — every major leap in technology ultimately changes the way people process information and make decisions.
It is easy to perceive innovations like Facebook, Google, and the myriad of information portals available on the web as proof of the imminent demise of civilization. The truth, however, is that every leap in communication over the last 3000 years has been met with both enthusiasm and distrust.
- Plato and the Written Word: In The Republic, Plato has Socrates declaring that poetry has no place in the perfect state. In that era, oral tradition was the accepted method of transmitting information while poetic epics like The Iliad were new comers. Poetry was the Google Docs of Plato’s generation and he was a champion of it. His argument for written transmission of ideas was that it encouraged the orderly and logical diffusion of knowledge.
- Grammar and the Gutenberg Press: Before the introduction of printing in the late 15th century, there was no system of punctuation and more often than not was simply non –existent. Chaucer, for example, included almost no punctuation in his manuscripts. The new fangled printing press was often railed against much like some people today warn how Amazon and eBooks are ruining our minds.
The Real Danger
It isn’t new technologies that are the problem but rather our failure to recognize how they can affect how we think, or in some cases don’t think. I am not advocating people give up the Internet. That’s should be obvious since you wouldn’t be reading this without it. But – we do need to become masters of whatever tool of information we have at hand. I love movies and some TV shows but 24 consecutive hours of Hell’s Kitchen, Jersey Shore or even Masterpiece Theater is bound to rewire one’s brain on some primal level.