We know that.
The online tools that allow you to read this essay while you track your emails while you monitor Charlie Sheen all at the same time are altering your brain circuits. You’re welcome.
Just as violinists have been found to possess larger cortical areas devoted to processing hand signals and London cab drivers have larger posterior hippocampuses where spatial representations are stored, digital tools have become a worldwide web of mind-altering drug. Is the alteration for the better?
The evolution of media seems to be an evolution in how we outsource memory. Socrates warned that the invention of writing would lead to the atrophy of human memory. Meaning the worry over the deleterious effects of new media on the brain has a long and delusional history.
And yet, digital seems different.
We know that reading a book gives the mind discipline as it follow a line of argument or takes a journey of narrative across printed pages. You end up more contemplative, more reflective and more imaginative.
But the digital frenzy inflicts on our minds a condition that writer and digital doubter Nicholas Carr has called “an industrial model of hedonic efficiency.” Speed trumps depth. Pensive stillness gives way to a phantasmagoria of inputs and sensation. Carr notes that while the Internet affords powerful tools for finding information and conversing with others, it also turns us into “lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.”
On the other hand, knowledge is increasing exponentially and human brain power and waking hours are not. So how can we possibly keep up with humanity’s ballooning intellectual output without digital tools?
What do you think, oh lab rats of the Digital Age? Oh, I just lost you. Your friend from third grade just Facebooked you.