Monday, November 29, 2010

The New Cyberia: In Which Brains Are Rewired One Text Message At A Time

As I write this, the brains of the people around us who are addicted to text messaging -- and there are millions of them -- are slowly but inextricably being rewired. Their ability to focus on the task before them, whether something as mundane as preparing breakfast or something as serious as driving on a busy highway at 65 miles an hour -- is compromised by their compulsion to text.

This New Cyberia is on view whenever classes change at the university where I work. From my midday perch on the front steps of the main library, I can look out at the campus green and perhaps five hundred students at a glance, at least half of whom are texting.

Two years ago, the number would have been perhaps 10 percent, a year ago perhaps 20 percent, but so quickly has the addiction to texting grown that these students apparently no longer think that being prepared for their next class or a meeting with a faculty adviser is necessary as they traverse the green. It's "Did Buffy get back to me?" "Will Fred be at the fraternity rush?" "Did Mom get my text message about dropping Dad off my Guccis?"

What are we to expect from a generation that is going out into the world wedded to their smart phones, and Face Book, Twitter and email accounts?

For openers, a kind of "communication" that is deeply impersonal in a world already growing increasingly so, one in which dates are made and relationships ended with keystrokes and not face to face. For another, faux scholarship based not on using primary resources, but through Googling and YouTubing. For yet another, a world view based less on personal experience and interpersonal communication than the trill of a cell phone text message prompt.

While neurologists are just beginning to understand how the brains of up and coming generations are being altered, the Rubicon
was long ago crossed that is filling classrooms, study halls, bedrooms and seemingly every other nook and cranny of our lives with technologies that are supposed to make our lives better, but too often create the impression of doing something when you're doing nothing.

There is no going back. And while the world certainly will be a different place, it is difficult to see how it will be a better one.


dogwud said...

I'm sending this to my two college kids with the preamble: "Bet you can't read this to the end without texting!"

Shaun Mullen said...

Good one. Let us know how they respond.

emma said...

It's true, we're like that. Though the observations I've noticed have tended towards the pessimistic side of things (it may be as Neil Postman suggests in Amusing Ourselves to Death) a new worldview which is vastly less intelligent, perhaps. Conversly, it may also just be the genesis of one that enables the next generation and the one's following to develop a less self-centered and more humanistic worldview... let's cross our fingers then, eh?

Laura in IA said...

Oh, I think all this new social media is more about being self centered rather than actually reaching out.