As part of an ethnographic study on internet use, I watched an internet user with three screens open, each with a blackboard showing 12 sites, that’s 36 sites in total sitting open in front of him, plus RSS feeds and a list of other sites to visit at a glance. He was looking at a dozen technology sites, non tech sites related to his work, plus general news and hobby sites. There was no separation between work and leisure. Those very words “separation between work and leisure” have lost their meaning.
I saw someone who works in security skim a dozen sites including police sites, corporate security sites, public as well as private access sites. He grabbed information from his own security staff at various locations, plus local news, weather, traffic to understand in several minutes what security issues occurred during the past 12 hours in his neighbourhood and what to be on the alert for at the moment. He knew what was going on in his area. He made seemingly instantaneous decisions about where to assign staff and what to tell them to be aware of. He obviously knew his business.
I saw an immigration lawyer check a dozen government sites because regulations and judgments across different jurisdictions and departments effect her actions. And changes occur daily, sometimes hourly. With fingers moving like a virtuoso pianist, she looked at numerous sites from various countries as well because what is happening in the countries of her clients affects their actions and her advice. Up to date in minutes.
Is their comprehension more superficial? Are their conclusions less effective? Is their judgment less trustworthy? I believe the opposite. They not only absorb information more quickly, they make connections between info nodes more quickly and they include far more information links than ever before. Think of the information used to make conclusions or decisions as a string net with the information points or nodes being the intersection of strings. Because of the internet and how it is used, the information net is far wider than ever before and the decisions or conclusions contained in the net are based on more information than ever. We are seeing exponential change, not linear change.
Think synapses in the brain. Brain plasticity in simple terms means the more you use it, the more it grows. Learn to play the piano and your brain changes; more connections - more grey matter. http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/
We are not seeing a loss in cognitive function, analytical skills or plain good sense. We are seeing an explosion in intellectual ability; brain power maxed to the nth. It just looks different.
Date: August 10, 2010