Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Internet's impact on our brain

Watch out, your brain may be changing in ways you may not like. Having trouble concentrating enough to read a long book, or even to write a letter?  Contrary to old beliefs that our brains don't change as we get older, research indicates that brains continue to evolve and change based on their inputs. This is due to neuroplasticity. 

In the book "What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains The Shallows", Nicholas Carr warns that the byproduct of the fast paced distracting nature of the Internet is a diminished ability to think deeply and store information long-term.  He states "... the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, we're forced to rely more and more on the Net's capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers."  p. 194  It requires time and patience for the information we gather to go into long-term memory. 

While Carr indicates the helpful nature of calculators for students doing math work, I have to question this a bit.  Have you noticed how dependent cashiers are upon their machines to indicate proper change?  I shutter to think how things would operate, or not, with a prolonged power outage.  Knowing the multiplication tables and basic arithmetic is still valuable.

Carr further paradoxically notes "the Net seizes our attention only to scatter it. We focus intensively on the medium itself, on the flickering screen, but we're distracted by the medium's rapid-fire delivery of competing messages and stimuli."  p. 118  It appears our brains seek out opportunities to be overwhelmed by stimuli/information.  We have a tendency toward distraction, and the Internet feeds mightily on this!  Cory Doctorow notes that the computer is an "ecosystem of interruption technologies."

One of the myths that I believed, we only have limited space in our brains for long-term memory, was overturned by research.  Seems we have virtually limitless amounts of room for memory.

So what's the importance of contemplation and long-term memory?  Seems to me they're essential for the development of wisdom.  Google searches aren't a fair substitute for personal discernment.

So what  do  we do?  One step in order to reduce the distractive nature of the computer is to limit the number of times thoughout the day we check email.  It might also be wise for us to restrict our overall time on the Net if we desire contemplation of thoughts/ideas and to strengthen our ability to commit things to long-term memory. 

Your thoughts... ideas????

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