Thursday, June 24, 2010

Technology isn't just changing the theater; it's changing our brains

NPR just reviewed a book by Nicolas Carr that talks about how the methods of learning demanded of us by technology are changing not only the ways we think, but how our brains are hardwired. The book is entitled The Shallows and it details how the short attention span of Twitter, email, iPhones, Facebook, and blogs (yes, this very medium as well) encourage use to gobble us "fractured and unmoored" information rather than the traditional deep reading that promotes us to "make their own associations, drawing their own inferences and analogies, foster their own ideas."

With The Shallows, Carr attempts to snap us out of the hypnotic pull of our iPhones, laptops and desktops. He reveals why we're suddenly having a hard time focusing at length on any given thing, and why we compulsively check our e-mail accounts and Twitter feeds and never seem to be able to get our work done. (It's because we've been abusing our brains.) He wants us to value wisdom over knowledge, and to use new technology intelligently. "We shouldn't allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we've numbed an essential part of our self," Carr pleads. It remains to be seen if he's shouted down or listened to.

While I haven't read the book myself, it is a scary thought that we are becoming a nation of robots that can only spit out the information that have been spoon fed or downloaded into our wall blotter. If we no longer value deep reading (or as my professors called it "close reading") how in the heck will our children be able to appreciate or enjoy the theater?

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