Article and Photography by John Morin | Owl Staff
On November 16, 2010, Bill Nye the “Science Guy” was giving a lecture at the University of Southern California when he collapsed on stage. Although some accounts state he was only down for about 10 seconds, students were quicker to tweet this occurrence than to rush to his aid. A similar story unfolded two days prior when Youtube icon Anthony Barre, a.k.a “Messy Mya,” was shot and killed on a busy street in New Orleans. Onlookers gathered around, tweeting about the tragedy and taking pictures with their cell phones.
Now, I am not saying that these onlookers would have behaved any differently if they didn’t have Twitter accounts, but certainly our obsession with staying connected and chronicling what takes place around us often leaves us a bit indifferent and actually “out-of-touch” with reality.
I had my own “aha!” moment last year when I caught myself mentally constructing my next Facebook status while going for a run. I wasn’t a heavy internet user, but I began to feel as if the way I thought about things was changing.
For example, I found myself using my mental faculties to construct an insignificant Facebook status or thinking about the things I read (the good, bad, and mundane) on Face book throughout the day. Not only that, but I was having difficulty staying focused on topics for long periods of time or retaining as much. I felt as if by spending more time on the computer, I was thinking more like a computer: quick, fractured, often trivial thoughts. It wasn’t a complete brain overhaul, but I definitely wasn’t thinking like I used to.
I began to research how the Internet affects the way one thinks, when I stumbled across The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. In this book, Nicholas Carr states that this dilemma extends fnnn our brain’s neuroplasticity, or it’s adaptability in how it retrieves and processes information. Excessive internet use and our “brains tum into simple signal processing units, quickly shepherding infonnation into consciousness and back out again.”
The Internet is one technology which undermines our utilization of deep and sustained thought due to its multimedia approach which “first attracts then scatters our attention.” This is done through links, excessive video and images, and other devices which continually steer our attention away from what is at hand. According to Carr’s research, the average American spends merely 20 seconds on any given web page.
Therefore, all social media users run the risk of passively receiving information without evaluating it for its truthfulness or intrinsic value. Couple that with the fact that the media is designed to sell you on certain ideas and trends, and you have a dangerous combination.
Furthermore, our “working memory” reaches an overload, so not only do we passively and shallowly skim from one thing to the next, but we are unable to retain as much. Equally alarming are the studies which show that with increased internet use we progressively “outsource” our memories to its databanks. And if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Is it any wonder, then, why you catch yourself checking your Facebook on your cell phone throughout the day? One’s brain is physically altered by and responds to the type of technology to which we subject it.
Now this is not to say that the Internet is “evil,” of course. Valuable information and services can be offered of which even I still make use. We shop online, research, and connect with those who can only be reached through social networks. (At the time of this writing, I still don’t use a personal page, but started a business page).
We must, however, embrace it in moderation. This also goes for movies, television and even mobile devices. By the time they’re 70, the average American will have watched 10 years of television. That’s a whole decade of one’s life set aside for idle, and often superficial, media exposure. This will have long-term affects not only in the way we think, but also what we think about.
So, the next time you’re between classes, read a book or take a friend on a walk along HCC’s wooded trails. Try a media and social networking fast or quit it altogether. You can still reach people on their phones. That is, if they’re not updating their status on them.