I’m helping make you stupid:
In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”
We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.
As I said during my interview with Ashley Crawford (Pay attention here! Don’t click that link yet!), I’m that reading off more limited mobile devices like my Blackberry and my iPod touch is helping me concentrate on reading longer, more substantive material. Reading on my computer, with its tabbed browser, has a tendency to destroy my attention span.
I’m trying to discipline myself to browse first, read later – find stuff of interest by scanning through feeds, Twitter etc, and then go over the stuff I’ve flagged to read before I go back and find more stuff.
Do you have any strategies for navigating the web without destroying your attention span, or do you think that the transformation of our brains could actually be a good thing?