Technology trains our brains
New media have always caused moral panics. Hard to imagine now but the printing press was in its time denounced as a threat to moral fibre. The paperback and television were seen as harmful to our brainpower when they first appeared.
So too with electronic technologies. Power Point – we are told – is replacing dialogue with gunfire of bullet points. Search engines encourage us to skim on the surface of knowledge rather than dive into its depths. Twitter is shrinking our attention spans.
But as it is with panic: if often fails basic reality checks. The decades of the transistor radio, television and rock videos were periods in which IQ scores rose continuously. The denunciation in the 1990’s of video games as crime provoking coincided in the USA with impressive decline of crime.
Media critics assume that the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes. A variation on ‘you are what you eat’. Yes, the cascade of all kinds of information can be distracting or even addictive, especially to people who have problems in focussing. But the solution is not to bemoan technology. We should rather develop strategies of self-control as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when we work and put away our Blackberry when we are spending quality time with our families.
The new media have caught on for a reason. The internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve knowledge at different scales, from Twitter and pre-views of e-books to online encyclopaedias like Wikipedia. Thank heavens they are. Since our collective intellectual output is increasing exponentially but our time is not. Far from being a threat and making us idle, technology is keeping us smart.
Are the latest technologies making you smarter or not?
Thanks for submitting your comment!