How do computers change the way we interact with written content on the web as opposed to a traditional essay or print newspaper article?
In a short span of a few decades, The Internet has drastically changed our ways of communicating and gathering information. Mass media, once simultaneously consumed by a passive audience, is giving way to the converged digital media of today. Not only do we seek information on a plethora of new “gadgets”, we also wade hip deep through a morass of platforms, apps, web sites and hyperlinks. People’s insatiable desire for information doesn’t change, but the media used to obtain it certainly will.
All forms of media, old and new, are in constant flux as they try to meet the demands of a multi-dimensional audience. The audience now has the power of instant feedback. This new twist is giving consumers the power to control much of what they see. Gathering information on the internet has changed into a non-linear mode. We zip from site to site, skimming bits of information here and there. No one knows, be it fabulous or frightening, what the ramifications of permanently plugging into the internet may be.
Nicholas Carr wrote in, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Carr ponders if the internet has changed his brain. He quotes Bruce Friedman, who blogs about computer use in medicine saying, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.” Carl Knerr counters in “No, Google is not Making Us Stupid” that “Carr makes too large a leap by saying that this is due to the internet causing a rewiring in our brains.” Knerr believes age, along with distractions of adulthood, have more to do with it. Knerr writes,
Innovation comes from pulling together new ideas from existing information. Imagine if Albert Einstein’s brain had immediate access to all of the world’s data: What other connections/discoveries could he have identified?
Still, Carr wisely asserts that “we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition.”
Kwaben Boahen’s Ted Talk, A Computer that Works Like A Brain, centered on the idea of creating a computer that processes data like the human brain . He outlined how computers operate in a linear fashion through the bottleneck of a CPU. This limits the speed and amount of data shared. In contrast, the brain uses a robust and redundant network that allows information to flow freely in multiple directions. The way we obtain information on the internet is more synchronous to the way our brain works than the traditional (linear) learning methods. According to Boahen, our brains process data as rapidly as the largest super computer. (10 quadrillion bits per second.)
Computer use is rapidly changing our thoughts on social structure as well. Joanna Blakley’s talk, Social Media and the End of Gender, illuminates how outdated demographics of age, race, and gender, are being replaced by “taste communities”. Individual likes, values, and concerns, are the new driving forces behind media content. Joanna talked of the positive, albeit intrusive, reality of our internet movements being watched. Your individuality is being paid attention to. But Elie Pariser’s video, Beware of Bubble Filters, warns us that “we’re moving towards a world where the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see and not necessarily what we need to see.”
I believe any invention can be used to enrich or hinder our lives. With the digital world, I see a slippery slope between enhancing life and overtaking it. Forgetting to be human and plugging into a virtual world 24/7 might create the cataclysmic demise of our world as we know it… or take us to a new level of enlightenment. Only time will tell my friends.