Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'Dumbing' down

More often than not, I have considered myself extremely privileged to have been born at the time I was born....I mean, think about it, there could have been no other point in History when we could have had such easy access to information. Be it gene bank sequences or the grocery store number, almost every damn thing is just a 'google' away. A lot of us would have paused at least once in the recent past and pondered about how people ever managed to go about life before the advent of the internet...or the mobile phone...or say, the printing press. Seriously, I have always thought I would have the knowledge of a six-year-old if not for the existence of Google.

Yet, truth is, a lot of marvelous findings did take place as long ago as 2000 years or before. I cannot find my way to the other part of the city today without Google maps. Yet, continents were discovered without it centuries back.

So are we really lucky to be where we are? Or, on the contrary, that which is posing to be the best gift ever actually a devil in disguise? By creating an illusion of information excess, are we actually falling prey to the curse of the opposite? For example, take the social networking sites. I log in to them every day or many times a day, to say the truth. I feel ever connected to a world of friends and acquaintances. I feel like they are all over the place. Yet, it is a very passive connection. Since I know they are just a click away, I never feel the threat of distance or of losing them. Hence, I also do not make 'active' efforts to bond with them. In other words, are we becoming a 'take-it-for-granted' generation?

I read an article a few days back on the influence of internet on human memory. According to the study's abstract, "When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it." I guess these lines beautifully point to what I had always feared - I am dumbing down. 

I definitely am.  I find myself engaging in more of skimming through information these days and less of processing them. So prone to this nature have I become that I am starting to resist any activity that actually needs me to pause and engage my mind with focus and concentration; to 'think'. I am instead opting for those activities that would merely allow me to passively engage in a fleeting manner with huge chunks of information. Hence, I do get the satisfaction of doing something while I ain't doing anything; like spending time on Facebook, reading unnecessary mail, reading a lot of blogs, browsing through 'interesting' articles online etc. - not that these are by nature, useless activities...yet choosing them continuously over activities that require active learning and thinking could render them so. 

It is a hurried existence. I walk fast, I eat fast, I read fast and am averse to slowing down. And I am beginning to feel I am not the only one.


Abhishek said...

While you dont feel the threat of long distance , you do realize that all of this ( social networking ) seems quite ... emotionally detatched .

I mean talking to some-one face to face , or on the phone isnt quite the same thing as using a long-distance communication software .

And as for skimming ,i usually turn on the music while writing something from the internet down , but doing the same when I was working for toastmasters agenda just didnt work .

This is because the work at hand ( even reading something quite hard to comprehend or process ) required my full undivided attention , and wouldt do with any thing less . There are exceptions for every rule ya know ;) ?

mr.weirdo!! said...

V started of studyin d nity grity of solving math prob but as v went to d next level v let calculator do tht while v concentrated on d actual prob. Internet can become useful if there is some guideline attached. Its like d real world where a lot of ppl ll occupy ur mind whn u shld use tht time for better purpose. To sum it up if internet stays as a tool rathr than somethin above us it ll help us.

Wow tht sounded very pure n serene. But whom am i kidding. From professional reports, blogs n newspapers, ppl have always asked me to tone it down so tht ppl can understand. So if u give wat ppl want how do expect to insert new thought into d system? This fast world has made ppl's mind slower to absorb complex facts

mr.weirdo!! said...

while u r busy answering each comments check this article on d same topic :-)


Anonymous said...


... reading a lot of blogs,

Reading your posts is not a passive activity Sindu. They (posts) require active processing.


Sindu said...

@Abhishek: :) Glad you could connect with the post

@Mr.Weirdo: "So if u give wat ppl want how do expect to insert new thought into d system? This fast world has made ppl's mind slower to absorb complex facts" - ABSOLUTELY!

Sindu said...

@V: Lol.. you did come to mind when I penned that line down and am glad you find that way about the posts. Yet, a lot of posts of mine too have been devoid of any thought worthy content and a mere vent out of emotion. One can connect with emotion but usually does not think about them.

Imagine doing that for a series of unrelated short posts of different people... after a while, it gets passive or so I thought.

CHIBI said...

You have beautifully penned down, literally every detail about what i thought about the invasion of Internet in our lives and google.. our brain's processing has become like a overflowing stockroom with more supply of information than demand.. hence we skim thro a lot of information at once, needed or not..!

btw.. your article gave me an interesting idea for a social experiment... I will do some field work and come back wit the details..!

Anonymous said...

One can connect with emotion but usually does not think about them.
Interesting thought - that it is easy to connect with emotion - it seems obvious now, that you've said it.

One can easily connect (empathize) with emotions only if one has experienced the same (been there).

I agree that easier access to information may reduce recall rate, but I don't agree that it means 'dumbing down'.

One has to distinguish between data, information and knowledge (ask any student of databases for the difference).
Data is a random collection of several facts; information is the same data organized / tabulated according to some criterion to give it some meaning, while knowledge is abstracting general concepts from the information.
(There is one more level above this, wisdom, which depends on how one uses/perceives this knowledge. :) )

So the internet has given easier/ faster access to several sources of data and information thereby allowing one to form concepts. There has been a shift from the kind of ability that has developed.

In an earlier generation importance was given to the ability of fast recall of information, in the current generation the ability to abstract concepts and to use the information available will be given importance.

Dumbing down - yes, of one kind of skill, and no, because it improves another kind of skill.


Sindu said...

@Chibi: Social experiment? Wow.. I am curious; but hey, no doubt, some other time, in some other life, you surely would have made for an amazing social scientist! :)

Sindu said...

@V : Ideally, I would have loved it had you differentiated between data, information and knowledge with examples.

In the article, I am talking about what I would term as 'information anxiety' i.e, I feel our brains are getting into the habit of wanting to take in a lot of information in less time. Hence, it skims, gets the hang of the important point and leaves, without pausing to 'think' and mull over the information taken in.

I do not know where data classification as you mentioned fits in this explanation. Perhaps, the classification doesn't hold true everywhere?

For ex., your line - "One can easily connect (empathize) with emotions only if one has experienced the same (been there)" is easy on the mind; understandable on one read for many. However your para on data classification is not.

I had to stop, read it slowly and think about it to grasp what it could mean. In normal life, I might just skip reading such paras or perhaps save it, thinking I will come back later.

Anonymous said...

:) Sorry - sometimes my intellectual discourses get the better of me.

A random collection of daily rainfall readings of a meteorological observatory over a year can be termed data.

Sort that random collection on some basis, say month wise, total month-wise etc. - now you have information like - the lowest rainfall was in February, or highest rainfall was in September. (Information)

Now if you have several years data, you could perhaps generalize and say that every year the rainy months are between July- September and driest months are Jan-Mar. This knowledge now allows one to schedule activities, like sowing of a crop, which may depend on rain.