Working Memory

As Carr works his way through his arguments on how our minds and way of thinking are changing with the advancements of technology, I find myself drawn to his statements on memory in chapter 9. Carr claims that “The Web is a technology of forgetfulness.” on page 193, basing this on how the internet places pressure on our working memory which inhibits its ability to transfer thoughts and ideas to long term memory. What I find as I read this is that his evidence appears solid, most of his examples eloquently point to this notion that we are rapidly losing our ability to recall moments and information long term as we used to, however, what’s most curious is that I don’t fully agree that this is a bad thing.

Human memory is extremely fickle and subject to change or loss of details over time; events and information become skewed as other more recent happenings replace the space used for a previous memory. Carr even admits to this and points out that the contingency of memory is what adds “richness and character” to our minds, contrasting the memory of machines as cold and static. But isn’t it better to have a memory remain exactly as it was, as if it were that very moment frozen in time? In court cases, human memory accounts for little of the overall ruling as it has been proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted, but the evidence of cold, hard facts, much like the static continuity of a computer’s memory, is incapable of changing its story or lying about events. Isn’t it better, then, to have a resource that can be recalled again and again without its contents morphing or disappearing?

Even in the case of enhancing creativity, I think to research done in schools on how to increase productivity and creative learning in the classroom. To me, it seems as if Carr portrays technology as an instigator of laziness as well as the bane of manual memorization which was once so important to society, but as we’ve learned over time, rote memorization does not work to enhance the learning capabilities of children in a classroom. Poring over written notes on an event in history which is available at their fingertips on the world wide web does not allow for a child to really contemplate the importance of that event, as they are too busy trying to memorize the dates and the people involved. Although Carr may argue that this ability to bypass the process of memorizing information is leading the way to an inability to remember things with clarity, I do believe that instead, it allows for people to eliminate memorizing things of less importance in order to focus their mental abilities on unique ideas.

The image I present here caught my interest in that we are, in a way, becoming more in tune with technology. As I believe, a consistent and efficient memory, like that of a computer or phone, may not be such a bad thing after all.

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Credit: Brian A. Jackson/Shuttershock
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Information Overload

Regardless of the subject being discussed, there are many noticeable differences between writing platforms. Many of these differences center around the idea that the Net/modern technology can change not only our thoughts but the way we think, process information, and the speed at which we receive this material. Carr gives a metaphor using water, a bath tub, a thimble, and faucets to symbolize how we tend to retain the information we are fed. His belief is that filling a bathtub with a thimble is equivalent to transferring our working memory into our long-term memory. He follows this example with, “when we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading” (124). He follows by saying that when on the internet, “with the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast” (125). Although this is true, a book provides only what is permanently stained with ink while the Net contains a plethora of options, does that mean that we are actually trying to process every single bit of information at once?

It is possible to read an article or even multiple articles online at a pace that we choose. It is even possible to revisit online articles, posts, etc. multiple times just as we would with a tangible book. For example, when I do research on a topic I still narrow my search. Regardless of if I receive my data from a book or the internet I am still specifying what I am looking for and specifying even further by choosing which of those links I read and/or use. I don’t try to click on every single link that might have to do with what I’m looking for, I only choose the ones that seem the most relevant. In that sense, I have multiple faucets running but I still choose which faucets to fill my thimble and later bathtub. When I look up a specific topic and I find the same fact in a book and on a webpage, it’s the fact that matters not the platform in which I got it. I am not saying that there is no difference between the different mediums of written works, I am simply saying that it is possible to limit what faucets are running when searching on the Net. I don’t feel as if my ability to learn about a subject is suffering because it came from online, just coming from a different platform than a written text.

book-vs-ebook
technofaq.org

This image I found interesting because it portrays the opposite of what Carr is saying, that ebooks and Net learning are better pathways than resources made with ink and paper. But if the information is the same, could it just be a personal preference on which style of learning suits the individual best?

Are we in control as much as we think?

Here’s a scary thought: a world in which human beings are no longer the most intelligent lifeforms, and in fact are now subservient to a new dominating “life form”- one that they invented themselves. Many of you already have an answer in your minds to the question “what is this new species that could overcome humans?” because with every new invention and improvement, that world, although still avoidable and many, many decades (or centuries) in the future if it does occur, is becoming more and more real. The answer is technology.

Nicholas Carr, in the last half of his novel The Shallows, talks more about present technology and the future. He touches upon subjects such as the dominating presence of Google, artificial intelligence, how our research and thinking patterns are affected by the Internet, and briefly looks into what the future may hold. Since technology has advanced so much and has made (arguably) the largest impact on human life and societal development, there is no going back to the time before it was invented. It has simply become too beneficial and integrated into our lives. We rely on some form on technology for almost everything we do.

Carr quotes Frederick Taylor saying “in the past the man has been first, in the future the system must be first.” Taylor is referring to his “system” he invented for increasing productivity among manufacturers, once it had been globally adopted, claiming that it would bring about a “restructuring not only of the industry but of society.” Although Taylor did not have modern day technology in mind, his words can be easily applied. Taylor quoted this over 100 years ago, and man is still in charge of technology, although technology is becoming more advanced and man is becoming more reliant on it to continue to progress at anywhere near the same level as we have been. If you take Taylor’s words in the context of modern technology, they ring quite true. It is slowly becoming more true that technology (“the system”) must come first in order for humans to continue developing at the same pace that we are.

There has even been attempts to create an artificial intelligence that has a mind that can think on its own, independently of algorithms that tell it how to process information. Some people find this close reality frightening, because what will happen once man creates something that doesn’t need man’s help to survive?

Movement From Paper To Screen

Through reading the first six chapters of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, I have gained a new perspective on what the media is doing to society now, and even what it did when technology was first evolving. I feel that what is being discussed in the first chapter is extremely relevant to my life, and the life that most students live today. Carr acknowledges the opinion of Karp, a well-educated man who has a passion for writing, regarding technology and how it is impacting our minds. Carr tells us that “Karp has come to believe that reading lots of short, linked snippets online is a more efficient way to expand his mind than reading ‘250-page books’, though, he says, ‘we can’t yet recognize the superiority of this networked thinking process because we’re measuring it against our old linear thought process’” (Car 8). Reading text online of all different sorts has become a part of our daily lives. Using the internet teaches us new ways of thinking and learning each time we explore something new online.

Everything we do has transformed into a shortened version and our minds have been forced to adapt to this. For example, any post on Twitter can be no more than forty words, meaning posts for this class have to be abbreviated or made into a significantly shorter phrase than an idea may have started out as. For people who have grown up using these methods of technology and have not had to watch society change completely with the growth of technology, there is not as much to get used to because we don’t have an old thought process to measure against, like Karp described in the text.

There are now so many benefits of reading entire books online or through an electronic tool. I read an article online about the benefits of eBooks, which also instantly directed me to further articles just like what was mentioned in The Shallows. For those who are trying to help the environment, that is a huge way to make an impact by putting a stop to purchasing printed books. But from the standpoint of someone who genuinely just wants to grow as a reader, an eBook allows you to look more in depth at certain aspects of the text and often times you can look up a particular word that you are unsure about. Since an eBook has a direct correspondence to the internet, there are always ways to gain more information on a topic or sentence you are reading about.

An Evolution

The beginning chapters of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr address the argument that the brain has been changed by technology.  I don’t agree with Carr in the sense that technology has fundamentally changed our brains, but instead changed how we have to use our brains.  A quote that really stood out to me in the first six chapters was: “The history of language is also a history of the mind”(Carr 51).  Before the internet was a prominent part of society, how people used their minds was much different than today.  I believe that the way we think and use our brains has evolved over time.

As technology has continued to revolutionize, so has the way our minds work.  The language we use has also evolved with technology, and therefore, the language we use evolves with our mind.  Carr explains how reading long books has become harder and harder with the development of platforms that allow you to connect to information much faster.  Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have altered our language.  Words have become abbreviated and condensed in order to fit full thoughts into 140 characters.  I personally find myself using slang that was born on social media platforms in conversations.  Words like “yolo” have become an official word in the dictionary, and we need to adjust to the way language is evolving.

Going back to an article that was shared on Twitter, emoji’s have become a common aspect of our online language and often blur the lines of what we are trying to communicate.  Speaking to each other through pictures is another advancement that our language has made, and our minds had to learn how to perceive and hold a conversation using those images.  Language has grown tremendously from having no spaces between words to using images of smiley faces and vegetables to talk to each other.  I believe while our brains are fundamentally the same, we use our minds in a different way in order to use today’s language to communicate.  On the other hand, the new language has come with consequences like emphasizing the generation gap.  The article linked earlier shows how an older generation can misinterpret language predominately used in texting and social media platforms.  In order to seamlessly communicate with each other, every generation must conform their minds to the evolution of language and technology.

Measure and Calculate

The idea that Carr talks about starting on page 44 is one of the most interesting to me. He talks about how, using technology as our tools, we “seek to expand our power and control over our circumstances.” As he continues on to classify them into four major parts, it is interesting how spot-on he is about how technology is simply human attempts at gaining control over nature, over each other, and over a thousand different things that we don’t SEE technology as, but it truly is this attempt to gain control.
Apart from Carr’s example of a fighter jet as an example of physical control (fighter jets are awesome), I believe the fourth technological classification category to be the most applicable to me as a business student. Carr notes that they can be referred to as “intellectual technologies.” A map or a clock would be examples of this category of technology. These are technologies we use to classify information, form ideas about certain things based on data and numbers. My laptop and the internet are examples of this technology as well because it expands my mental capacity and my ability to support my mind.
I found it very interesting that I don’t really stop and think about how much we calculate things – especially as a business student – and how I less often think about how someone had to “think up” a way to calculate this or that. How primitive certain calculations must have been thousand of years ago. How did we move from that to calculus, finite math, physics? Who was the first one to think of certain accounting principles for businesses? It’s insane to think about how much we calculate and try to understand things with research and data, but yet we don’t stop and think about how those calculations came to be. And how certain calculations at certain speeds weren’t available in the near past. How many math equations were done at <a href=”https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/CalculatingByHand_Feature_5_8.html”>NASA</a&gt; by hand before computer technology was really advanced?
Don’t get me wrong – I believe that the other categories of technology are important; extending our physical strength, extending the range of our senses, and reshaping nature to fit our needs are all important. I just thought that the technology that allows us to measure and calculate things and support our mental powers were more applicable to me as a business major. With all the calculations I do for classes, I don’t know where I’d be without technology helping me.