Monday, 15 March 2010

Brain changing technology

I found some interesting quotes about the impact of digital media on our brains. Oppenheimer paints a negative picture:

My concern with this digital media is that it’s such short attention span stuff that they get bored. It’s what I call instant gratification education, a thought comes to you, you pursue it, you see a web site you click on it. You want to hear music while your studying you do it. All this bifurcates the brain and keeps it from pursuing one linear thought and teaches you that you should be able to have every urge answered the minute the urge occurs (Todd Oppenheimer, Author, The Flickering Mind).

I don't see it like this at all. Having lines of thought answered or satisfied instantly is a good thing. We'd have always done this if it were possible. And why is linear necessarily good. Life isn't linear, life is complex and every-changing. The learner needs to learn this way and cope with it. Why learn for a world that doesn't exist. I don't see this as a barrier to deep and meaningful thinking. On the contrary, we now have better tools to do the job properly.

So I prefer this quote:

There was always gains and losses … when print replaced aural culture, when writing happened there was certainly things we lost, one of them was memory. You think of the Homeric poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Homeric singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry out of their own memory. We’re not good at that any more because print took it away. Is it a loss? Sure. And to a certain extend getting people to be contemplative and a little bit slower; not to multi-task all of the time, paying avid attention over a long period of time to a certain extend might be lost. But that’s the price of gain. (James Paul Gee, Arizona State University)

Sure, I'd like a better memory and if we are naturally less adapt at this then it's a shame. But memory can be improved if you really want to. The important different is that we have greater opportunities to realise different pedagogies in an increasing number of ways. We are changing who we are for the better. Interestingly, the aural culture which was replaced by printing can now make a resurgence thanks to the ease with which podcasting/videoing can be done.

The point is that this is a problem that we as human beings have coped with throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st century and the good news is we survived it. As a culture we learned how to adapt to it … so we are seeing this period of evolution and at the end of the day we’re better off as a society if we go at this with a sense of open mindedness and exploration. (Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California)

This is spot on - open mindedness and exploration.

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