The Herald Bulletin

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Columns

June 26, 2013

Primus Mootry: Information overload leads to focus on the inane, irrelevant

Brain Drain: Is modern media making us dumber?

A couple of weeks ago, I rather playfully wrote about multitasking, our new habit of doing more than one thing at the same time. In our fast-moving world, a primary contributor to our felt need to simultaneously manage various tasks is largely a by-product of modern media, particularly television and the Internet.

The impact of multitasking, however, is not child’s play. It is a manifestation of powerful, commercially driven communication technologies that, although it may sound counter-intuitive, inhibit meaningful communication, foster isolation, and, arguably, make us dumber. How, you may wonder, can this be

After all, never before have people had so much access to such a wide variety of information literally at the tip of their fingers. However, it is this very fact — the flood of information available to us — that is negatively affecting how we think.

Years ago, it was called “information overload.” Although this term is rarely used these days, it is entirely appropriate. We have so much information available to us that our brains cannot possibly process it. For over half a millennium, since the invention of the printing press, the written word — books, for example — have been the primary means of recording, storing and retrieving information. Now, however, it’s the screen

I am reminded of a book written some decades ago called “The Medium is the Message,” by Marshall McLuhan. Although McLuhan had both ardent admirers and harsh critics, his argument that electronic media, specifically television, was a threat to literacy is still quite valid

The argument, in a nutshell, is that it is not what is on television that is important, but the fact that you have one (probably more today!) in your house. To put a more current spin on it, the whole business of PG, PG-14, and other such ratings suggests that television content is more important than television as a new technology.

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