Archive for July 16th, 2010

Shallow minds?

Friday, July 16th, 2010

In ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains (Norton, 2010) Nicholas Carr suggested that acquiring new tools and skills changes us because using them forms new connections in the brain. This echoes the ideas of Marshall (the media is the message) McLuhan, who once said that ‘the future of the book is the blurb’. Long before him Plato also took the view that our tools affect our thoughts.

There is plenty of evidence that the brain is adaptable. A London cab driver who knows how to get about the capital, that is has ‘the knowledge’, has a hippocampus (the part of the brain where such information is stored and used) larger than most of the rest of us. Brain scans indicate that the web strengthens our “primitive” mental functions (quick decision-making and problem-solving). Many studies (in Nature and elsewhere) have concluded that gaming leads to improvements in performance on various cognitive tasks, from visual perception to sustained attention. Bjarki Valtysson ‘Access culture: Web 2.0 and cultural participation’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 16, 2, 2010, pp. 200 — 214, demonstrated how digital communication and new media platforms enhance cultural participation.

However, Carr argued that another aspect of this plasticity is that, given the opportunity to dip and sample, we tend to be more easily distracted and interrupted and to use the processes associated with reading less. To employ the analogy of the brain as a computer, our circuits are being reprogrammed by our gadgets. (more…)