Our brains are shifting with digital media and online learning and reading. We know our brains are malleable, but to what extent is the new technology altering us? Nicholas Carr's cover article for July's Atlantic, Is Google Making Us Stupid was a a stab at wrapping our brains around this shift but I think the problem isn't Google (which is just a tool for obtaining information), so the title is a misnomer. How are we accessing, working with and managing the flood of information?
The headmaster of my children's school in Atlanta warned, when kids were listening to iTunes and IM-ing while doing homework, that our kids are not learning how to live in silence and to think deep. Some literacy experts say that reading itself should be redefined. How do we interpret digital information, including videos or other digital information that isn't textual? The Educational Testing Service (SATs) now has a digital literacy test (iSkills) to measure online learning abilities, or internet literacy.
From The Encyclopedia Britannica Blog (where Carr is on the board) discussion, Your Brain Online, regarding Carr's article and this whole idea: "...the impact of electronic media on literacy are nothing new; we’ve heard complaints for decades that television is responsible for the decline of reading. But what we hear today is different: not just that we will read less in the age of the Internet, but that the very way we read, think, and perhaps even write could be profoundly debased by it. Carr cites Nietzsche’s adoption of the typewriter as an example of how the tools of composition shape and change what’s written. The philosopher’s writing, Carr reports, became more epigrammatic and “telegraphic” when he moved from pen to typing machine."
Now there is a lot of discussion coming out regarding Carr's ideas ... The Reality Club has all the links for very good thinking on all of this. It makes great reading. Go and read the discourse on that page that leads off with this quote by W. Daniel Hillis:
...the world is demanding that we become smarter. Forced to be broad, we sacrifice depth. We skim, we summarize, we skip the fine print and, all too often, we miss the fine point. We know we are drowning, but we do what we can to stay afloat.
There's a back and forth discussion after the article came out... Clay Shirky had an argument and Carr replied and this is where his main point came out: It’s not just a matter of “finding time” to think deeply...what the Net may be doing, I argue, is rewiring the neural circuitry of our brains in a way that diminishes our capacity for concentration, reflection, and contemplation. This, as Shirky admits, would not be the first time that our technologies have changed the way we think. The human mind was designed, through evolution, to be highly adaptable—for better, or for worse.
This is important and why we've moved to what I term The Attention Economy... The opposite, some say, of attention is distraction. Others in this debate note "One American study found that interruptions take up 2.1 hours of the average knowledge worker’s day. This, it was estimated, cost the US economy $588 billion a year. Yet the rabidly multitasking distractee is seen as some kind of social and economic ideal."
Hyperreal as done by Artist Ron Mueck gets our attention because, I wrote, regular life is mundane and the "new" reality holds so much appeal, artistically and culturally, because we are used to so much "presentation" that the hypperreal, beckons us. In an attention economy, we follow our interests through what attracts us.
Rhizomatic learning is a shift that I've been interested in. This is the idea of following things from node to node rather than following things hierarchically, from top to bottom. The NYTimes examines the trend of youth reading online and the decline or flat "reading" test scores and decline in teenagers "reading for fun". Here they are talking about books, not Facebook reading. "Clearly, reading in print and on the Internet are different. On paper, text has a predetermined beginning, middle and end, where readers focus for a sustained period on one author’s vision. On the Internet, readers skate through cyberspace at will and, in effect, compose their own beginnings, middles and ends." We know that learning to read changes the brain's circuitry but how does online reading affect the brain's hard-wiring? We know that brains are malleable.
My oldest daughter attended the first highschool in the nation to require all students to have laptops as part of the educational process. I'm one of the 11 percent of women blog (according to the Pew Internet and American Life project) and having completed a master's in media studies, all of these issues are of interest. Theorist Marshall McLuhan knew that new media would change us. It has. It is.
We are responding to how we can now learn and access knowledge. Tim Berners-Lee -- sees a convergence between the document web and the data web, he calls it the Giant Global Graph (GGG), and this shift in our learning will continue as technology evolves. I wrote in Drowning in Information Overload, information is no longer top-down and wondered, are we drowning, or just going through the disruptive and unsettling technological rapids to the calmer waters of a more enlightened age?
More people report spending less time than more time in the past year reading books with 65% reporting that more time is spent online. Steven Berlin Johnson, author of Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everday Life writes of the technorealism movement and about the drop in reading and points out that it overlooks the increase on online reading and "new forms of reading" with the single most dramatic change in media habits over the past decade is the huge spike in internet activity, "...and of course we are writing more, and writing in public for strangers: novel readers may have declined by 10%, but the number of bloggers has gone from zero to 25 million.
We are more interactive, but still text-based, but we are changing our literacy abilities. Jaques Derrida saw this as the end of linear reading/writing with this free-form flow of information. After 13th-century Paris scribes began churning out large numbers of portable Bibles, reading and scholarship changed forever and the printing press took linear textual learning further.
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer sees our future: there will be no media consumption left in 10 years that is not delivered over an IP network. There will be no newspapers, no magazines that are delivered in paper form. Everything gets delivered in an electronic form.
Digital technology now makes information a flood and working with it an entirely new science and way of learning. We access it, store it and work with it nodally with links and access -- the library of storing and retrieval -- more important than retaining and working with depth. And with books, as our digital reading shifts, the Kindle e-reader continues to gain ground. The last bastion of printed text, books, is changing.
The ABC's of text is a new form of literacy.
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Power & Information Uncontained
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