Saturday, June 05, 2010

Does the Web Make Us Dumber?

Nicholas Carr and Clay Shirky have a terrific point-counterpoint in today's Wall Street Journal. Carr proves particularly provocative, as he often is. He argues that multi-tasking using a variety of new technological tools, can actually make us "dumber" in many ways. Carr points to some interesting new research conducted by social scientists, which shows that our increasingly divided attention may have harmful effects on our cognitive abilities. For instance, here is what Carr writes about one study performed at Stanford:

"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."

Other research shows that students using web-connected laptops in class may retain less knowledge. Carr provides a good overview of a stream of literature all pointing to such detrimental effects of divided attention driven by technological use.

Several days ago, I blogged about new research suggesting that email may make it easier for individuals to lie. Now, we have Carr's column that warns us about the dangers of multi-tasking. Hopefully, this new work will cause us to exercise a bit more caution as we proceed with the implementation of technology in our workplaces and classrooms. I'm a big believer in using technology to enable and enhance learning, but I'm certainly sensitive to the divided attention problem.


BPJ61 said...
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BPJ61 said...

I also found the article interesting and worry about the impact of my classroom being wireless. Many students bring laptops to class for note taking but on more that a few occasions I have notice them on social networking pages and not keeping focused on class discussions. Also wasn't there a study along these lines that suggest that people gravitate toward web pages that tend to confirm their existing beliefs? Does the web contribute to confirmation bias?

Michael Roberto said...

The web perhaps makes it easier to find information that supports pre-existing beliefs. People, I'm sure, exhibit the confirmation bias when searching for info via the internet.