January 21, 2011
Can the Internet change how you think? That was a question columnist Suzanne Fields asked the other day. If you go to Edge.org, you will notice that the question they pose for this year is slightly different. It is: “How is the Internet changing the way you think?”
I have been wondering the same thing. Unlike Suzanne Fields, I wasn’t wondering IF the Internet was changing our thinking but HOW it is already changing the way we think. There were two reasons why I have been thinking this.
First, look at the younger generation being raised on the Internet. If you haven’t noticed, they think and communicate different from previous generations. I have done radio programs and read articles about the millennial generation. They do think differently, and a large part that is due to the Internet.
A second reason for my interest in this topic is an Atlantic article by Nicholas Carr entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He says: “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.” He believes this comes from using the Internet and searching the web with Google. And he gives not only his story but many anecdotes and some research to back up his perspective.
A developmental psychologist at Tufts University puts it this way. “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.” The style of reading on the Internet puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above other factors. Put simply, it has changed the way we read and acquire information.
Now you might say that would only be true for the younger generation. Older people are set in their ways. The Internet could not possibly change the way the brains of older people download information. Not true. The 100 billion neurons inside our skulls can break connections and form others. A neuroscientist at George Mason University says: “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”
The Internet does appear to be altering the way we read and think, but more research is needed to confirm if this true. If so, parents and educators need to take note of what is happening in our cyberworld. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.