the internet and neurobiology

The blogosphere was buzzing yesterday with Nicholas Carr’s article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" even if, perversely, given his argument about the spread of online reading, the article had not yet appeared on the net yet or on newsstands and could only be read by subscribers to the print version of the Atlantic. 

In this article Carr sounds the alarm about how the vast amount of information on the Net and the ease of searching it via Google are changing our ways of thinking, spurring us to replace solitary, deep thought with surface-level grazing for content. Carr’s entirely justifiable fear is that we are less able to process and analyze information these days and more prone for a quick fix, going off to search for the next source of stimulus.

This article comes at a time in which I’ve been reading a bit about Neuroaesthetics, in particular as developed by Warren Neidich in his essay "The Neurobiopolitics of Global Consciousness" and in the conference proceedings that you can find at Artbrain #4 (also Warren’s site). 

There’s likely to be much more about this on the site in the future, but for now, I’d like to observe that what leads me down this path is the suggestion that historical conditions can correspond to neurobiological changes. In other words, that it isn’t just that we’re reading differently as we learn to navigate the net, it’s that as we select for one form of cognitive processing over another we are reprogramming our brains at a fundamental neurobiological level.

In doing so, we support that activity with the tools and environments. These, in turn, pass on the changes in our brains to future generations and affect the conditions they emerge in.

In this light, network culture wouldn’t be merely a cultural condition, it would be a neurobiological state, a plateau in a long, Darwinian evolution of humanity’s cognition. Given the radicality of the changes in the last decade—comparable to what happened in 1900-1915 (the period in which modernity formed) or the 1950s and 1960s (the moment in which the postmodern generation came of age)—it seems more urgent than ever to study network culture as a period, rather than as a collection of unrelated phenomena. 

brick wall


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