Archive for October, 2009

I’m in a google state of mind

October 29, 2009

One of the things I have been critical of in my comments on Marc Prensky and his Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants hypothesis is that there is no evidence which would  support his claim that Digital Natives by virtue of their exposure to computers and the internet, have differently wired brains.  Apparently, neuro scientists do believe in a concept they call neuro plasticity but that in itself does not support Prensky’s hypothesis.

In 2008 Dr Gary Small published a book iBrain: surviving the technological alteration of the Modern Mind, along with his partner, Gigi Vorgon,  a freelance writer. Small is an eminent medical researcher who pioneered MRI scans to show there was physical evidence that the brain aged, and he was able to show evidence of Altzheimer’s Disease in living persons.  It would follow, therefore, that his adoption of the Digital Native Digital Immigrant model in his book would give much weight to Prensky’s case.

In iBrain, Small is writing about young people, Generation Y, but his research has been with older people, mostly, but not always, the elderly.  We see this in a paper he published in February 2009  in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychology. (I said he has lots of street cred!)

To this untutored person, what Small, Moody, Siddarth and Bookheimer found actually argues against the Prensky hypothesis.  The study asked a group of older people to conduct on line searches in Google while the researchers studied their brain activity, hence the title of their paper, Patterns of cerebral activation during internet searching.  The subjects varied in age, the youngest was 55, and some were experienced users of the internet while others were novices.  The conclusion was that all subjects showed changes in the ways their brains worked during and after their searching.  The trouble for the Prensky hypothesis is it argues that only Digital Natives will show  changes to their brains. Whatever you call the people born between 1945 and 1955, Baby Boomers, Woodstock Generation, Generation Jones,  they are all part of Prensky’s Digital Immigrants and this should not be happening.  The fact that this research was conducted by a researcher who had previously supported the Prensky hypothesis should give pause for thought.

Small, Garry W., Moody, T.D.,  Siddarth, P., and Bookheimer, S.Y., (2009) Patterns of Cerebral Activation during internet searching, American Journal of Geriatric Psychology pp 116-126.

Small, Garry W and Vorgon, Gigi (2008) iBrain: surviving the technological alteration of the modern mind, Collins 256p.


The devil you know

October 6, 2009

The research supports the evidence coming from the media and the conversations of most adolescents.  Social Networks are big.

The media focuses on the negative.  Tonight we have a repeat television story  about how a hoax site was used to undermine a 15 year old girl’s self esteem and encourage her to join a suicide pact. The radio had a story about how a fan obtained the contact details of a celeb on Facebook.   No wonder most older people treat this new medium with suspicion.

Academic research is more objective and more positive.   Without dismissing the harm caused on social network sites, we should see that the overwhelming majority of young people use these sites without any adverse effects.

As I have argued in posts about using texting, we are in danger of letting the opportunity to use these sites for educational purposes go begging.

It seems to me that Facebook because it allows add-ons has more potential than the other sites which evolve much more slowly.   One use I quite like is the ability to add “causes” to your Facebook profile.  This allows like minded people to network and so become a more cohesive grouping which can act together.

Tweet what you eat

October 5, 2009

How’s this for a practical application of Twitter? Alex Rossi has set up an on-line food diary where users tweet their daily food intake.  Big tweeters (the pun is deliberate) such as Stephen Fry, credit this simple approach as helping them lose weight. With obesity a major health problem, the time is fast approaching when the detractors will have to fall silent and let users develop Twitter in whatver way appeals to them.

Who’s twittering now?

October 5, 2009

In the media’s on going interest in Twitter, more and more stories are coming to light about how Twitter can be used for purposes never thought of by its creators.  The latest comes from Pittsburgh where two self confessed anarchists, Elliott Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger have been using Twitter to update protesters at the G20 summit about police movements. The police have found a way to charge them with criminal misuse of a communications device.    It is interesting how law enforcement can catch up with new technologies when there is a strong enough incentive.

Goggle eyed or google brained?

October 5, 2009

I’ve just heard another journalist riding Mark Prensky’s bandwagon about how electronic technology is changing our brains.  Nicholas Carr has been speaking on Kim Hill’s Saturday radio programme on Radio New Zealand.

His ideas are perhaps most accessible in a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, where he asks “Is Google making us stupid?”.  He begins with stories about the difficulty he has in concentrating on what he has been reading and then citing other people who have the same experience.  Well, add me to that list but unlike Carr, I do not blame Google and the Internet for my own infirmities.  When the book is interesting enough like The Da Vinci Code, I have no difficulty concentrating.

Perhaps more telling is his next remark:

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much.  And we still await the long term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition.

I couldn’t agree more with his first remark, but has he considered that there will not be any experiments or that the experiments will be inconclusive?

His anecdote about Nietsche in the last years of his life, learning to touch type so he could continue to write even though his eyesight was failing, is an interesting one.  Nietsche’s friends noticed that his writing style had changed as a result of this new way of writing, leading Nietsche to comment “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.   Similar anecdotes can be told about the Roman writer Quintillian when he employed a scribe to write at his dictation and about Henry James when he employed a secretary to type at his dictation.  Unlike Nietsche, they found their writing became more verbose.  I don’t think that these anecdotes prove anything at all.  McLuhan said it all, the medium is the message.  The medium is not rewiring our brains.