Friday, December 3, 2010

From brains to the net? Episode Two - Brains

Another article of week 7 that intrigues me a lot is Is Google making us stupid from Nicholas Carr. It arouses our attention to the impact we have got from modern technology, especially the Internet. 

Let's see what Carr holds in his mind:

He starts with the feeling of his brain being tinkered, his neural circuitry being remapped and his memory reprogrammed. 
All these are due to the way in which information is presented in online searching and surfing. Google is a representative. The Google way of information presentation is featured by hyperlinks. Unlike footnotes i academic articles, hyperlinks don't merely point to related works. Consequently, they may lead us to a page that has nothing to do with our original purpose. Online reading also put "efficiency" and "immediacy" above anything else. People browse through titles, contents pages and abstracts, to get information they need. This may lead to the lack of deep reading, and then thinking.

Yes, there are some relationships between reading and thinking. "Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. ... We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains" (Carr, 2008). So it can be predicted that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will differ from those woven its change to our reading habits. The Internet also distracts our attention by its specific way of appearing on the computer screen. All the things are shown in the less than 16 inch area right in front of us. Messages from email, IMs, or social networks can easily attract us from our reading on the computer. Our concentration is diffused.

Here are metaphors of the typewriter and the clock. Someone writes tighter and more telegraphic after using a typewriter. The prose "changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style." While since the advent of clocks, people started to decide their daily activities obeying the exact time. Their brains seem to operate like clockwork. Correspondingly, in such a digital era, we inevitably start to think of our brains as operating like computers.

I seem to be convinced by Carr to some extent. Thinking of the way we think now, I cannot deny that we tend to pursue the amount of information that we know access to, instead of having our specific view or profound understanding of a certain topic. Imagining that we don't have a clock, or don't have a computer, our life and our thoughts will obviously be different. 
However, does distraction and shallowness equal to stupidity? or is it the truth that our brains are entirely shallowed? I don't think so. On the one hand, we have not lost our ability of thinking critically and deeply, even though in many cases we haven't achieved a thorough understanding of something. And this kind of ability has gained great attention in many educational contexts (especially higher education), as a learning objective to be achieved. On the other hand, nowadays, knowledge can in fact be stored in books, webpages, online resources, friend's brain, and all kinds of networks. (Though I doubt the connectivism as a learning theory, it does tell some truth.) It is efficient to know where knowledge can be found instead of what it exactly is. The change in our brains saves storage space, and thus lead to a higher operation speed, which is similar to the positive correlation between operation speed and RAM memory space of the computer.

Relavent articles:
Nicholas Carr (2008, July/August). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from


  1. Do we inevitably start to think of our brains as operating like computers? Not sure…

    Does distraction and shallowness equals to stupidity? Not sure….

    But I agree that technology is altering our brains and thus defining as well as shaping our thinking (Siemens, 2004).

    I used to have a great memory, but now things changed. That is, I get used to NOT store my other emails’ password in my brain, but in my gmail. Sounds crazy right? I no longer have to recall tons of passwords and information using rote memory, because of the Internet.

    And, perhaps Internet may make us shallow, because we have to face tons of information on the Internet, thereby being unable to focus on everything as well as think of what we have seen critically and deeply.


  2. Well, Jason, I was like you, used to have a great memoty, but now things changed, I guess it is not because of the convenience of technology, it is just becuase my memory really fades......

    I am not sure whether google makes us stupid or not, but I am sure I don need some time without cmputer. When I use computer too much, I need some time just be surrounded by books, and then clear my mind to think about what I need to do next! However, the truth is that we cannot live without computer now, if we use those high tech more properly, we can be smart again!