Is digital information overload also killing our capacity for contemplative, abstract thought — permanently altering the wiring and circuitry of our brains?
May 10, 2016
I really don’t see why anyone would be surprised.
Neural nets are habit machines, in every dimension of distinction, abstraction and temporality. We learn by doing. We teach people not to focus long term by putting them in school and interrupting them constantly with “bells” to change class every 40 minutes or so. We do it at so many different levels, with news “bites”, txt messages, twitter, etc – “dumbing us down”.
As to technology and memories, one of my enduring memories involves a cell phone. In 1990 I was an early adopter of cell phone technology in New Zealand. I was a solo dad at that time, and my business contracts required that I be available for 24/7 phone support on “mission critical” software systems I had written. So getting the cell phone gave me the opportunity to get out of the office and away from home (even if they cost as much as a good second-hand car and were not very reliable in many places). So that first week, I took my young son to a newly opened amusement park “Rainbow’s End” in a nearby city. We were on a ride in a fibreglass “log”, inside a concrete “mountain” when the phone went off. It was a client about 350 miles away on another Island with a problem. I talked her through the issue, and as we emerged from the mountain, and went over the “waterfall” my son screamed, as we plunged vertically towards the water. The woman on the other end of the phone (now a good friend and neighbour) asked what was going on. When I explained, her astonishment was obvious from the tone of her voice. She hadn’t seen a cell phone, though she had heard of them. That cell phone, and the many that have followed, allowed me to get out and do many things while still being “on call” and connected to the office. My current smartphone has “Teamviewer” on it, so I can get a call on the golf course, or hiking in the mountains, or out in a boat, and instantly be working with them on their terminal at their office or home to sort out the issue – rather than being tied to an office and landline. Magic!