Google: No Neutral Networking

Views 88 | Time to read: 4 minutes | Uploaded: 2 - 4 - 2014 | By: Emily Keach

Laptop stationed on the desk. Five browser windows open, maybe three of which pertain to your studies — one on ever-updating newsfeed, one flashing with a (dubiously) pertinent all-student email. iPhone in hand, either sending or receiving a text or scrolling through Instagram. Maybe an iPad nearby.

This picture look familiar? Probably because this describes most of us in Voskuyl Library. The worldwide love affair with new forms of technology is highlighted by the record-breaking sales this past week of the new iPhone 5s and 5c. The Los Angeles Times reports that Apple has sold over 9 million of the new devices since Friday morning, putting the Internet directly into the pockets of consumers for an unprecedentedly low cost. With the Internet and social media instantaneously accessible, we would do well to consider the consequences of how each click of the touch pad or swipe of the screen affects our thought processes.

In the July 2008 edition of The Atlantic Monthly, Nicholas Carr published “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In the article, Carr investigates if there is evidence that, as he suspects, the Internet has eroded the strength and duration of humans’ concentration. Carr insists that media channels not only “supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.”

Given the brain’s malleability, as well as the quick reading (perhaps “skimming” is more accurate) that the Web in general promotes, Carr’s argument makes sense. Whether intentional or not, our brain is always learning: we must be conscious of how we wire it.

Despite the lurking suspicion we may have that Google and its counterparts are diminishing our ability to concentrate, the Web has the potential to make endless resources readily available. It is how we use that potential that matters. In his book, “Technopoly,” Neil Postman discusses the need for individuals living in a technological society to examine carefully the trade-off that each new advance creates in their everyday lives and interpersonal interactions. Postman claims that “every culture must negotiate with technology, whether it does so intelligently or not.” It would be a mistake to be completely naïve and trusting when adopting new technology into our daily life, as we would be blind to the potential harms it could cause.

Postman calls the one who falls into this trap a “technophile.” For example, an individual may not recognize that their dependence upon the new iPhone 5c, and the complex multitasking solutions provided on OS 7, could diminish their ability to devote their attention completely to a lengthy text or to an important conversation with a close friend. It would also be a mistake to become what Postman calls a “technophobe,” blind to the benefits that technology may offer us if we negotiate with it wisely. Our access to the Internet obviously offers limitless valuable resources. As college students, we are eminently grateful for the time that it saves us in our research. Without a doubt, the Internet offers us a treasure trove of resources.

Is Carr’s suspicion that the Internet decreases our ability to focus scientifically corroborated? There is a lack of concrete evidence to either confirm or deny this claim. Small conducted one of the first studies monitoring brain activity while surfing the Web in 2009. He found that a similar brain region — the left hemisphere — was activated in both “net-savvy” and “net-naïve” participants while searching the Web. This evidence suggests that despite familiarity with searching the Web, for many it remains a novel, stimulating experience. Alternately, the neural networks of the “net-savvy” group were more stimulated than the “net-naïve” group while reading the longer text.

There is no conclusive evidence as to whether or not skipping from page to page or from iPhone to iPad to MacBook decreases our attention span. As such consequences are uncertain, we should be aware of how time in front of screens affects us personally. By immersing ourselves in a virtual world, are we losing touch with reality? Or do the two worlds complement one another? Does having limitless opinions and ideas expand our repertoire of knowledge at the expense or the augmentation of creativity? These are questions wanting to be answered, begging consideration . . . and perhaps warranting your own Google search.


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