Implications for Reading and Writing: Heavy Online Use

This is Joe Essid, for now using the user name “writing” (uggh), as if I were some Socratic essence.

In a recent issue of Atlantic Monthly, Nicolas Carr published “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

He posits that our minds are changing neurologically from using technology so much.  Sounds far-fetched, but neuroscientists have observed changes in our brains for some time, especially among children. Note this response to Carr from the letters to the editor in the current issue  of Atlantic:

Nicholas Carr correctly notes that technology is changing our lives and our brains. The average young person spends more than eight hours each day using technology (computers, PDAs, TV, videos), and much less time engaging in direct social contact. Our UCLA brain-scanning studies are showing that such repeated exposure to technology alters brain circuitry, and young developing brains (which usually have the greatest exposure) are the most vulnerable. Instead of the traditional generation gap, we are witnessing the beginning of a brain gap that separates digital natives, born into 24/7 technology, and digital immigrants, who came to computers and other digital technology as adults.

This perpetual exposure to technology is leading to the next major milestone in brain evolution. More than 300,000 years ago, our Neanderthal ancestors discovered handheld tools, which led to the co-evolution of language, goal-directed behavior, social networking, and accelerated development of the frontal lobe, which controls these functions. Today, video-game brain, Internet addiction, and other technology side effects appear to be suppressing frontal-lobe executive skills and our ability to communicate face-to-face. Instead, our brains are developing circuitry for online social networking and are adapting to a new multitasking technology culture.

Gary Small, M.D.
Director, UCLA Memory & Aging Research Center
Los Angeles, Calif.

One thought on “Implications for Reading and Writing: Heavy Online Use”

  1. While the full impact of this new medium (these media?) is yet to be fully discovered, one clear sign is a notable decrease in the ability or desire to focus attention. Some of this comes from TV, especially with speedy jump-cuts & constantly moving backgrounds, scrolling texts, pop up ads etc. This is not to say that we cannot develop the ability to focus for lengthy periods of time by reading a single document strictly online.

    At the same time, we’re also beginning to notice how sometimes video game use, or the use of any other multi-layered digital technology demands a kind of focus, as well as the intellectual exercise of puzzle-solving in a multidimensional space.
    Scholars like Selfe & Rouzie (and Essid!) have noted the powerful impact of play in the learning process, and how significantly it enhances and encourages learning.

    a recent relevant article regarding the practical intellectual value of playful learning:

    New Yorker “The Eureka Hunt” (links to pdf)

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