At the IdeaFestival, Clive Thompson presented concepts of how technology is changing our thought processes, as explored in his new book "Smarter Than You Think. There are a myriad of arguments for and against the increased use of technology in everyday life.
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Futurists and technophiles encourage its use, sure that technology will welcome a new utopia, while luddites rail against the "destructive" nature of technology use. We sense that tech is changing the way we think. The big question is how it is changing the way we think and what are the results of that?
According to Thompson, technology is changing the way we think in four major ways:. During the Stalin regime, government photos were augmented to remove people that fell out of favor with Stalin. Thompson noted that, in part, George Orwell's derived many of its literary motifs from the Soviet Union's practices at this time. Orwell's big fear was that if you could change the past by changing historical content as on a photo , then you could change the future. This was seen in the s when Adobe Photoshop rose to prominence.
The scare that people would be fooled by fake photos was a real fear for some people. Once photomanipulation became a folk art, though, Thompson said that people are getting better at detecting it. The way we think about photos, especially digital photography is changing, For example, bloggers figured out that the four missiles in a famous press photo from Iran were fake, even after they were published.
As we engage these technologies, Thompson argues that we are trending towards public thinking, or thinking out loud.
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This was typically not the case before the internet came along. After completing college, most people didn't write anything publicly unless it was their profession. Now, according to Thompson's estimate, 3. New publishing platforms, such as blogging tools like Wordpress, and social media tools such as Twitter have enabled this. There is an audience effect that, as soon as an audience is present, we feel that we have to bring out the best in what we are doing. Public thinking connects us to other thinkers.
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You can find, as Thompson said, "Some other weirdo that cares about the same things you care about. These online "utterances" like short tweets or status updates increase our sense of ambient awareness. Thompson said that ambient awareness is the ability to be aware of the happenings in peoples' everyday lives without being physically present.
Much like we pick up on subtleties through body language, these small utterances help us to understand how our friends are feeling. Granovetter found that people who found jobs heard about that job from what is known as a weak tie, such as an acquaintance or someone you know in passing. It used to be difficult to connect to weak ties, but now we live in a world where we have constant persistent contact with weak ties through social media.
However, below we highlight a few observations that have been made to date.
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Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.
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I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
Many of us are likely to be able to attest to the experience of that writer. Though we would have read novels back in the day, particularly at school, we now find ourselves opting out of reading books, or even long articles. If we must, more often than not, we just scan the text to try to pick up the salient points, but not necessarily to enjoy the experience of reading. Following from the earlier observation that we tend to rarely disconnect from our personal devices, it must also be highlighted that those devices can affect our sleep.
Further, most of us tend to use our devices right up to bedtime, and even in bed, which can make it more difficult for our minds to unwind, relax and transition to sleep. Finally, since we might not be inclined to switch off our devices whilst we sleep, or even put them in silent mode, our sleep quality can be affected by the chirps and alerts from those devices throughout the night. Are you considerably more comfortable texting people than speaking to them, or meeting them face-to-face? Have you found yourself being bolder even risque in your engagement with others whilst texting than what you would typically do in person?
Have you observed it others around you? These are just a few of the trends that have emerged in recent years.
Is technology is changing the way we think and how we interact with the world around us?
For those who are a generation or more younger, and so would have been exposed to technology at a far earlier age, the impact on their social skills is even more pronounced. To a considerable degree, they have been reared to stay indoors, and so were more likely to occupy themselves watching TV, playing video games and surfing the net, instead of playing outdoors and hanging out with their friends. In summary, whilst we, as humans, must and will continue to evolve, we may need to better recognise the compromises that unknowingly, we might be making.
Being sleep deprived, with shorter attention spans and limited social skills, for example, may ultimately put us at a disadvantage against those who do not possess those deficiencies.
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