The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Columns

June 26, 2013

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

(Continued)

The technology itself, not the programs, changed the way millions of people gathered and interpreted information. It moved the more or less objective, active process of reading (critical thinking) to the more passive process of simply subjective, uncritical believing.

Today, most observers of modern media and its impact on the mind tend to agree with McLuhan. Of course, McLuhan’s ideas have taken on greater relevancy with the advent and explosion of computer technologies that have brought us the Internet.

In a new book called “The Shallows,” the widely renowned writer and media critic, Nicholas Carr, says: “After 550 years, the printing press and its products are being pushed from the center of our intellectual life to its edges. Now the mainstream is being diverted, quickly and decisively, into a new channel. ... The pathways in our brains are once again being rerouted.”

He goes on to say: “[The Net] is becoming our typewriter and our printing press, our map and our clock, our calculator and our telephone, our post office and our library, our radio and our TV. ... We don’t see the forest when we search the Web. We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.”

With regard to the notion of rerouting the brain, Carr and others note that our increased dependence on electronic media actually causes neurological changes in brain function. We become fascinated by isolated facts that are, for the most part, irrelevant.

We learn in bits and pieces. Rather than read deeply, we skim. We gather information for an immediate purpose, then just as immediately, forget it. Our marvelous brain neurologically re-configures itself to manage the inane.

Beyond this, it is argued that we lose our ability for concentration, contemplation, imagination, problem-solving, critical thinking, and empathy. We’re too busy multitasking. As Clifford Nass writes, “multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.”

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