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In Nicholas Carr’s book, What the internet is doing to our brains, he describes the impact the internet has brought to our capacity to concentrate and think deeply.
Carr simply suggests that the internet has changed the way we use our working memory. His argument was that we rely too much on the superficial internet culture, and compromise on exercising our memory. We are as a result rendered less capable to synthesize information as we did before. This essay seeks to establish the eligibility of the Technological determinism theory postulated by Thorsten Veblen.
Thorsten came up with this theory that saw technology not as an activity that mankind engages in, but as the main driving force of his usual activities. To an extent, he was right in that every utility that man invents incorporates new technology, and the ease with which man can operate or control situations is gradually accelerated by the amount of technology he can apply to the activity. His usual thinking capacity and mental activity are lowered by the over-dependence on the all-so-free and available internet.
Therefore, he constantly relies on the internet, and deprives himself of the activity involving him in manual operations, continuously seeking to make devices and machines that are more automated and that come close to having a will of their own than before (Ferguson 30). The result as Carr shows it is the human brain becomes quasi-literate, and incapable of the linear exposition that enables one to think deeper, and compose a thought when intending to learn (Carr 67).
The American sociologist, Thorsten Veblen, came up with the theory that explained his stance regarding his opinion on the future effects of modernization and technological advances. The theory tries to establish the idea that technological advances condition social transformations.
Some philosophers and sociologists think of technological advances of as part of society, others think that technology is an uncontrollable force that self regenerates (Dusek). The theory seeks to explain an occurrence or phenomenon in terms of a determining factor. We shall seek to explain sociological alterations that have risen as a result of technological advances made in the field of internet accessibility (Jordan 44).
Technological determinism as pertains to the internet
It was not until late in the 20th century that packet-switching was invented. The internet was initially used mainly by the Americans as a media, but it has recently evolved into a global source of information.
The internet offers dialogue information retrieval services, online access to libraries, course studies on the internet where people can study at the comfort of their homes, and much more. Mankind has vested a lot of energy and reliance on the internet nowadays that it moulds his life around the easy information and access available online.
As discussed in his book, Carr suggested that the human brain was undergoing Neuroplasticity, where the brain chemistry was changing due to introduction to something new that may have recently awakened its consciousness as opposed to what it was used to. The Shallows is a relevant read indicating where man has failed by disregarding his brain reliance and focused more on thinking shallow while at the same time relying on short reads in place of literary works.
Carr talks of texts on the internet, highlighted as hyperlink text, contained within a text body and the distraction it causes whenever one reads past the hyperlinked text. The brain, sort of, goes into a dilemma wondering whether to carry on reading through the text, or to seek the deeper sense of the hyperlinked text.
The break in concentration represents what Carr tries to emphasize on in his literary work; one cannot engage into continuous reading without bumping into a form of distraction, be it photos and pictures on the screen of the computer on pop-up windows linking the reader to a popular site a click away.
Deep concentration is therefore hindered by these media forms whenever we look to the internet as a form of information source. The definitive texts contained therein are also in short forms, failing to fetch the deeper sense of the words in question. Technology is considered autonomous since it is self-developing; we do not create it, therefore, it is not a product of society. It instead shapes society and regenerates in the hands of researchers and users, rather than its founders (Flichy 25-30).
How the internet has affected the way we think
In the field of media study, we can appreciate that it is difficult to isolate effect from cause. Therefore, we can recognize the reductionism theory to such an extent that we can appreciate its practicality (Dusek 84). The theory of technological determinism relates the future social systems and political systems with the technological advances we make.
It tries to show both the social and historical patterns we take with regards to a determining factor; in this case, the internet. The more we pay detail to the antsy the more distracted we get. And the memory and concentration spans keep getting shorter and shorter. In the theory, Veblen applied a reductionism stance where he chose to see the cause and aftereffect of the technological advances that we randomly make, in a simplistic and cause-and-effect manner.
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Technology today is continuously changing the way we think, deep research into diverse topics has been made easy with access to the online encyclopedias, digital images of foreign phenomenon, and detailed explanation of phenomenon, but we keep our attention spans short and the intent to acquire the necessary knowledge just fades as we read on. The overall effect being that man nowadays has lost the innovation he once had during the printing age.
He could have walked into a great pool of knowledge with the rise of search engines and online libraries but he has structured himself in an internet-dependent manner such that he can only rely on technological inventions to seek deeper meanings into a topic rather than go about it the old-fashioned way, which was to research in the library and find an intelligent solution to conquer the problem at hand.
Though the internet has been referred to as the next big step in the evolution of mankind, it has brought with its rise a new trait in the human behavior that has rendered the human mind incapable of generating bigger and more intelligent ideas from reason. Future societies might have to look back into their past and try to figure out where their forefathers misjudged circumstances leading them to an age of less literate generations.
How far this technology takes mankind depends on his ability to identify the degenerative effects of the current resources at hand. If he fails to eliminate this terrible element, he might have to stumble onto a pre-conditioned doom as witnessed in the final result of the deterministic theories postulated up to date (Carr 25). Neuroplasticity might in the end work against us if we disregard the warnings in Nicholas Carr’s literary work ‘The Shallows’.
Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains . New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Print.
Dusek, Val. Philosophy of technology: an introduction. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006. Ferguson. Internet. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2006. Print.
Flichy Patrice. Understanding Technological Innovation. New York: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007. Print.
Jordan, Tim. Hacking: Digital Media and Technological Determinism. Cambridge: Polity, 2008. Print.