Monday, August 04, 2008

Good Question! Are we getting stupider?

Media have been changing the way we “behave” for a long time now – from the first traveling storyteller to the new iPhone. I usually share with participants in our Web 2.0 classes that the way I learn, share, read, and not surprisingly, think has changed over the last few years. It’s the internet, without doubt, that has propagated my new behavior. I feel like I think more shallowly (it’s a word now!), but I see more and make more connections. The question is . . . am I a casualty or am I the fruit of the internet as a medium? I’m sure most of you are thinking fruit. She is defiantly a fruit. Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . .

In the Atlantic article,
Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr explores the notion that our brains are changing and our new media are responsible.

"As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

Here’s my question, is it a good trade to forfeit deeper insight for a broader perspective? Okay, I guess I have way more than ONE question. What does this mean in terms of how students learn, how we teach, what we teach, where they learn? How should educators react? Should we cultivate this new way of reading? Will you even be able to finish reading this blog post?

I am constantly fascinated by how the simplest inventions or “happenings” can so monumentally change what is us or what is our world. For example, I’m reading a book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by
David Weinberger in which he discusses how the alphabet was originally a miscellaneous grouping of letters in no rational order. Essentially, it was just a bunch of letters floating in your soup, and even how those letters eventually became letters was pretty much unscripted. Someone along the way put them in a random order and said, here, we’re going to do it this way. Thus was born the alphabet upon which the preponderance of our world is ordered. Blows my mind – you’ll be hearing more about this book when I finish it.

So, let’s move from one unconsidered mind blower to another – the clock. Carr shows us that the clock changed everything about how we thought, behaved, interacted, etc.

"In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock."

Go ahead. Imagine your life without a clock of any sort. Can you trust your senses? How might our world look now if we had never had clocks? Do you think it might be better or worse? What about no alphabet – better or worse? Surely arguments can be made on either side.

I use to be a fairly focused thinker, but even as much as I wanted to read this entire article in one fell swoop, I couldn’t. I followed links in the article, I wrote this blog post, I instant messaged with people, and many other tasks I didn’t know I was doing all at the same time. I had to remind myself to go back to the article. Can you do it? Can you read the entire article? I finally did. It was worth it. Still, in the frenetic process of reading this article and writing about it, I made several discoveries and thought some worthwhile thoughts. I learned, but did I learn better or worse? Am I getting stupider? (no comments on my stupidness, please!)

As a writing instructor turned technology integration instructor, I have to end with a provocative quote from the article, at least provocative to me:

In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”

I’m just sayin’!
Lee Anne

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