Researcher: Technology might be returning us to Stone Age-thinking

“With the map, our mind became more abstract. Instead of being focused on what we see visually, we began to think outside of our own sensory limitations. With the mechanical clock, our minds became more synchronized, in that we began to change our habits and tasks to coincide with the scientific measurement of time,” Carr explained.

Carr calls these inventions “intellectual technology,” or the tools we use to think—to find, store, organize, analyze, and share information and ideas. These tools change our patterns of thought.

Along with intellectual technology comes “intellectual ethic,” or the assumptions about the mind embedded in and spread by an intellectual technology—the medium’s “message,” said Carr.

“This occurs because the more our environment changes, the more our habits change, and the more our brains change to suit the environment, since your brain is always trying to be efficient. This malleability is called neuroplasticity,” he said.

The good, the bad, and the Stone Age

As we use technologies like smart phones and the internet, our brains are changing as well, and Carr argued that although we acquire skills, such as increased visual-spatial intelligence (being aware of many moving parts at once), we also weaken our “mindful knowledge acquisition,” inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection. [See “Can gaming change education?” and “Rethinking research in the Google era.”]

“Our brain is becoming saturated with information, and it’s becoming harder for us to hold onto meaningful information, if we can even pick out what’s meaningful anymore,” he explained.

The need to acquire many bits of information is nothing new, Carr said. Supposedly, early man needed to gather as much information as quickly as possible just to survive.

The brain releases dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure, every time we receive new information, said Carr. The printed page and reading eventually changed that, but now we’re reverting to old times all over again.

For example, Carr quoted a recent study showing that for an average adult, time devoted to looking at screens per day averaged 8.5 hours, whereas time devoted to reading from pages per day averaged 20 minutes.

Meris Stansbury

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