BLOG POST: Is the Internet making us stupid? – Rebecca Eynon

rebecca_eynonMany writers have proposed that new technologies have negative consequences for our abilities to think, learn and process information – often referring to very specific lab based experiments and typically ideas based on (sometimes pseudo) understandings of neuroscience.

In the Times two weeks ago Nicholas Carr suggested that, “We seem to have arrived at an important juncture in our intellectual and cultural history, a moment of transition between two very different modes of thinking. Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed and overlapping bursts – the faster the better.”

The problem I have with these kinds claims is that we never consider people as people – we always study them in a specific context doing a specific task.  Individuals live both in the real world and (to vary degrees) engage in the online one.  All of these experiences are likely to have some kind of influence on our brains and as a result our abilities to deal with information – not just those experiences that occur online.

We are all scanning and filtering more information online – but that is because we have to. We all can (and do) still fully engage with texts over a long period of time when we need or want to. The idea, as Nicholas Carr and others suggest, that this skill is somehow removed simply because we spend time surfing the web is not what I see in the students I teach or the young people I study in my research.

What we do need is more informed research and greater discussion between the disciplines.  Neuroscience has a lot to add in this debate – see, for example, Blakemore & Frith’s great book: the learning brain.

Is the Internet making us stupid? I doubt it…

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