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Re-wiring our minds?

Updated Thursday, 18th February 2010
Susan Greenfield considers the proposition that time spent online is re-wiring our minds.

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Okay, well we have to think about what the screen technologies, a screen experience is delivering and what it’s not delivering. So first of all it’s fast paced, it’s very strong on vision and hearing, and most usually that’s what’s make it so exciting to be engaged with so therefore your arousal is up.

They’re very literal images, what you see is what you get, and I’ve often been intrigued how you would show something like honour for example. In screen terms how could you show something as complex as honour and these very subtle abstract concepts.

So you have a literal world where the premium is on action because you have to look at something, you don’t just want to look at a thought or look at... When you read a book you’re sharing someone’s reflections and thoughts, when you look at a screen that’s not really possible.

And even if you’re trying to interface with someone on Skype or something like that you can’t really look someone in the eye in the same way as I’m looking you in the eye right now, yeah? And all the prosody, that’s the tone of voice, pheromones are the sneaky smells that you can’t smell but are there, the body language, the going red, the sweating, you’re rubbing your hands on your jeans, the gulping, all those things are far played down, all those interpersonal, so therefore you have to up the ante on the vision and the hearing and the literal action. Yeah?

So it’s a very different type of experience to a three dimensional real life experience. And another very important thing is the emphasis is therefore on experience rather than meaning, rather than on content.

And when you play a computer game for example, you can just play the game again if it doesn’t work but you can’t live your life again much as we might want to. As I heard Clinton say once, once you’re dead you can’t be undead, yeah? Whereas you can in a computer game, you can always stand up again, yeah? So, and that sounds very obvious but I think it’s a very important issue and a very different issue that things only have a meaning if they have a long term endurance, otherwise they’re not...

So therefore the issue of meaning and significance I think is challenged.


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