At the Centre, we've been interested for a while in the numerous, recent developments from the corridors of neuroscience on discoveries about the brain. We know this is an area that people are really interested in; indeed, we had an audience of nearly 500 at an event we held a while back with Norman Doidge, a Canadian Psychiatrist who wrote the book "The Brain that changes itself". Doidge has become particularly interested in ideas around neuroplasticity and how the brain adapts and re-configures in the light of experience, or in response to trauma. From his own work, and described within the book are numerous grounded examples from stroke victims to children with specific learning difficulties whose outcomes have improved as a result of our increased understanding of the adaptiveness of the brain. More effective and tailored interventions have been devised as a result of our ever increasing knowlege about brain development. Neuroplasticity seems to be well and truly on the map these days as more and more scientific discoveries and evidence find there way into the public domain.
Recently, I've just finished reading an article, that gained much attention at the time, from "The Atlantic" (July/August 2008) by Nicholas Carr entitled "Is Google Making us Stupid?" Carr has also recently written a book, "The Shallows", further developing his ideas from the Atlantic piece.
This material was timely for me because I've often wondered of late, that as we increase the amount of time that we spend on-line and conduct more and more of our lives over the internet, what might that actually be doing to our brains? Interestingly, this is an area that appears not to have been subject to much empirical research in recent times.
It's certainly the case that more and more of us are becoming seriously dependent on internet search engines to seek out information. Gone are the days of physically trawling through hard copies of books, libraries or other physical sources to find things out. In three clicks you can have a 1,000,000 potential results (albeit many of them will be useless for your purpose). Carr and others have suggested that getting such a volume of information to hand quickly, often means that we whimsically skim and scan information on the net, moving around one site to the next without really reading for depth, comprehension and meaning where we fully process and commit to memory some of our new learning and discoveries. Our attentional focus becomes limited because we think that we'll discover something more relevant and interesting by clicking on to the next site and so on. Concentration and contemplation are detrimentally affected. We almost develop a specific dominant skill set that helps us to superficially navigate our way around the web - perhaps losing some other skills along the way. Metaphorically we're very competent at surfing the net but as a result don't do nearly enough deep sea diving.
I'm sure, like me, you're familiar with the phenomenon where you intend to spend 15 minutes searching for something and as time flies by, you're still staring at a monitor two hours later! Sifting and tediously working through what you find - and sometimes feeling overwhelmed and a bit more confused than when you started.
The question of course is what might this all be doing to our cognition working in this particular way for long periods of time in virtual environments? This is the direction of technology travel that we're on though - and it feels a bit like a runaway train.
Ideas in this blog of course sit around the concepts of the fixed and growth mindset. From neuroplasticity and the brain changing in the light of experience to perhaps the idea that if information is so accessible and comes too easily from the web, then are we reducing the notion of effort and application - an essential charateristic of the growth mindset?
Some have suggested that the trick however is much more around what you do with information, rather than how easily you manage to find things out.
It's all interesting and unsettled territory. What are your own thoughts on the pros and cons of the Internet revolution and how it might be impacting on our cognition and its relationship to the fixed and growth mindset?
"The Atlantic" (July/August 2008)
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr, W.W. Norton, 2010