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Brain rotter deplores brain rot

By Michael J. Smith on Sunday June 20, 2010 09:33 PM

The Wall Street Journal is very worried about our brains:

Does the Internet Make You Dumber?

The cognitive effects are measurable: We're turning into shallow thinkers, says Nicholas Carr.

The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best 2,000 years ago: "To be everywhere is to be nowhere." Today, the Internet grants us easy access to unprecedented amounts of information. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

You know you're in trouble when an essay starts by citing "the Roman philosopher Seneca," a thinker than whom only Cicero was shallower. One suspects that a thesaurus lurks somewhere backstage. As Carr begins, so he drives on:
The picture emerging from the research is deeply troubling, at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought....

Only when we pay deep attention to a new piece of information are we able to associate it "meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in memory," writes the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel....

In an article published in Science last year, Patricia Greenfield, a leading developmental psychologist, reviewed dozens of studies on how different media technologies influence our cognitive abilities. Some of the studies indicated that certain computer tasks, like playing video games, can enhance "visual literacy skills," increasing the speed at which people can shift their focus among icons and other images on screens. Other studies, however, found that such rapid shifts in focus, even if performed adeptly, result in less rigorous and "more automatic" thinking.

More dazzling science:
In one experiment conducted at Cornell University, for example, half a class of students was allowed to use Internet-connected laptops during a lecture, while the other had to keep their computers shut. Those who browsed the Web performed much worse on a subsequent test of how well they retained the lecture's content.
You mean... when they had something else to listen to, they ignored the droning bore in the tweed jacket, scrawling his unlovely diagrams on the blackboard in grating chalk? O what rough beast!

There's more where that came from:

In another experiment, recently conducted at Stanford University's Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, a team of researchers gave various cognitive tests to 49 people who do a lot of media multitasking and 52 people who multitask much less frequently. The heavy multitaskers performed poorly on all the tests. They were more easily distracted, had less control over their attention, and were much less able to distinguish important information from trivia.
It's droll to note that no links are provided by the brain-rotter par excellence to these definitive scientific studies. One might have wondered, for example, what distinguished "important information" from "trivia" in these studies and whether the experimental subjects would have agreed with these assessments. But presumably the WSJ doesn't want to distract our attention from the message, and lose what few neurons we have left, neurons which would be better employed poring over the deep sequacious thought we get from the Journal's own stable of thinkers.
The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being "massively remodeled" by our ever-intensifying use of the Web and related media. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Merzenich, now a professor emeritus at the University of California in San Francisco, conducted a famous series of experiments on primate brains...
Oh my God. A doddering old monkey-molester in California is worried. Let's pull the plug on this Interrawebz thang right away, People's brains might be changing -- and more to the point, the Wall Street Journal's business model might be doomed.

Comments (16)

When I was in college, during the late Mesozoic Era, we didn't have laptop computers or Internet, but I did have a habit of lapsing into doodles whenever the class got boring.

You could look at, say, my Econ 101 notebook and track the progression of my boredom as each day's notes started out as detailed, coherent digestion of the professor's lecture on Adam Smith or some shit, and slowly progressed until by the end of the lecture, my notes had totally degenerated into idea sketches for my next Yipster Times cartoon or my next strip for the student weekly.

I got a lot of my best cartoon ideas in that goddamn' Econ class, sitting in the back of the room, sketching feverishly while appearing to be taking notes.

Al Schumann:

The internet-related doom-mongering industry and its cousin, the internet-related utopian disruptive industry, are dotcom boom hangovers. The punditry gets shriller and crankier every year, but the core messages never vary. The audiences do get bored, however. Hence the need to trot out retired monkey molesters and cognitive crackpots. A lurid freak show is just the thing when the rubes start wandering away.


better a monkey molester then
a for profit pig fucker

as much as we independent petty B types
might rage against the academy machine
there are worse things out there
facing we the weebles
yes worse
then boring tweed jacketed chalky drones...

exhibit A :

low hanging corporate supervising monkeys (flying or non flying) and their pig fucking bosses

why ?

to be fired trumps to be flunked most times

I recall a convincing argument about the adverse effects of TV on the development of children's brains, but that is a passive consumptive activity compared to the interactivity of the Internet. Still, it would be hard to beat the New York Times for instilling illiteracy.

Michael Hureaux:

I don't suppose the internet is any worse than any other research tool, the perennial problem is whether young learners will ask follow up questions, and that problem would continue to exist whether the technological boost were there or not. The problem is that most people anymore want instant results, you know, the quest for speed, etc.

But, as Jay Taber suggests here, there are legions of people among the meritocracy who cite the New York Times and NPR as though they were unimpeachable sources of veracity; likewise the BBC and the Wall STreet Journal. Since there are not any ideological or ruilng class biases in any of these sources according to most people, there is a lot of ideological blather or aliteracy functioning in the so-called academy. We're in a lot of trouble.

CF Oxtrot:

Just the other day I had someone tell me that what's in Smithsonian Magazine is unimpeachable science.



On the primary topic of the origin post, when I read those quoted segments, I hear that muted trumpet sound of Charlie Brown's teacher going

wonh wonh wonnnnnnh.


This guy is really clueless! Doesn't he know that they WANT us to have a shorter attention span? Get back in your cell, Brother Matthew!


"One suspects that a thesaurus lurks somewhere backstage."

Yes, we suspect that, but we know that a Bartlett's is there, well-thumbed and greasy.

Less words, more things burning.

I did some self experimentation once in which I watched Network News and read the WSJ, Washington Post and NYT non-stop for 24 hours.

I was a drooling idiot after that and have never recovered. Proof that the establishment media rewires your brain and makes you stupid.

What? You have a problem with my methodology?


Bartlett's. Of course, Bartlett's. Duh. I've always been apt to confuse a thesaurus with a florilegium.


"Less words, more things burning."

Good Mr Crow! Yes, Yes! A thousand times Yes!

"I've always been apt to confuse a thesaurus with a florilegium."

Blogfather, so do we all.


PS: Whoever prepped that brain and failed to remove all the dura needs to be flogged, then fired. Or caned. Or spanked open palm. At least fired.


RedP -- I had the same thought. I used to work for a Hungarian neuropathologist, and she would have been *livid* if such a shabby-looking brain had landed on her cutting board.


Looks like saran wrap to me. Isn't the color that of a pickled brain?


The pickled ones are paler, as I recall. But photographs can be so misleading.

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