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

“This is a problem, because our brain has a ‘bottleneck’ when we go back to these old habits, meaning that our working memory has a ‘cognitive overload’—which can negatively affect our long-term memory and our ability to evaluate information and distinguish what’s useful from what’s just trivia,” he said.

What does this mean for schools?

With the influx of technologies such as smart phones in the classroom and iPads for children as young as kindergarteners, Carr says there’s reason to be concerned—and this puts more pressure on schools and librarians to help students learn the deeper skills of critical thinking, introspection, and analysis.

“For schools,” he explained, “it may be hard to cut back on technology, because with technology it’s very easy to calculate the benefits with immediate data and observations—for example, seeing increased attention to subjects, more participation, et cetera. It’s not always easy to define the negatives, such as long-term memory retention loss and an inability to analyze correctly.”

Therefore, Carr said, it’s critical for librarians and teachers to guide students to open-ended thinking and problem solving. Also, using real books for a change might not hurt, he said.

Carr closed his keynote with a quote by the late David Foster Wallace during a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005: “Learning how to think … means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

Meris Stansbury

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