Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Monday, June 7, 2010

every day in every way. . .

Jonah Lehrer:

There is little doubt that the Internet is changing our brain. Everything changes our brain. What Carr neglects to mention, however, is that the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the Internet and related technologies are actually good for the mind. For instance, a comprehensive 2009 review of studies published on the cognitive effects of video games found that gaming led to significant improvements in performance on various cognitive tasks, from visual perception to sustained attention. This surprising result led the scientists to propose that even simple computer games like Tetris can lead to “marked increases in the speed of information processing.” One particularly influential study, published in Nature in 2003, demonstrated that after just 10 days of playing Medal of Honor, a violent first-person shooter game, subjects showed dramatic increases in visual attention and memory.

Carr’s argument also breaks down when it comes to idle Web surfing. A 2009 study by neuroscientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that performing Google searches led to increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, at least when compared with reading a “book-like text.” Interestingly, this brain area underlies the precise talents, like selective attention and deliberate analysis, that Carr says have vanished in the age of the Internet. Google, in other words, isn’t making us stupid — it’s exercising the very mental muscles that make us smarter.

I wish I could believe this. And Clay Shirky too.

Also, I wanted to finish reading this story but I had to write this blog post. And tweet some.

6 comments:

  • Is this a "Barcelona" reference?

  • That's right, Russell: we've got to get past this "good for your brain" or "bad for your brain" business. Carr does a much better job of getting past it than Lehrer does. The brain gets better at performing almist any activity that it is called upon to do regularly, and gets less skilled at managing tasks that it is rarely asked to do.

    Doug, your "'Barcelona' reference" reference stumps me.

  • In Whit Stillman's classic film "Barcelona" the protagonist is a self-improvement fanatic who is always repeating, "Every day in every way I am" . . . I can't remember what.

  • Ah, that explains it. This is what I was referring to: “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” Which I guess is what Barcelona was referring to also.

  • Carr and Lehrer are having a back-and-forth on Lehrer's blog here. I would say they are mostly talking past each other. But still worth a read.

    I think I would accept Carr's thesis a little more if he was clearer about the "we" whose brain is getting damaged. ("Is Google making us stupid?" Maybe but first define the "us" and then we'll talk.) My guess is that this "we" is mostly a collection of people that reads and writes for a living -- but that would rob Carr's thesis of its apocalyptic edge, no?

    Alan, I agree. It doesn't make much sense to argue whether something is good for the brain or bad for the brain. But I would say that Lehrer is only meeting Carr on his own ground; after all, Carr started this whole bad-for-the-brain business!

  • Yeah, I've had the very same NYT article open on my computer to the second of five pages for several days now.

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