Thought this was a pretty neat summary of The Shallows I found on YouTube 🙂
Thought this was a pretty neat summary of The Shallows I found on YouTube 🙂
Chapter Nine: Search, Memory
To open, here is video by Crashcourse. It offers an excellent explanation behind the workings of our brain in the creation of explicit and implicit memories.
Explicit memories are memories which we can consciously recall. Working memory depends largely on the use of explicit memories; for example remembering what is in your fridge so you can decide what to have for dinner, or a fun memory with friends.
Implicit memories are memories which contribute to our ability to perform a task without consciously drawing back to the experience we learned to do it from. For example, reading – many can read but do not recall the time we learned how to do it.
Short term memories can only exist for a very short period of time; it depends on whether or not the synapses in the brain between neurons are strengthened or weakened. In order for them to be turned into long term memories our brains must go through a very specific project called consolidation. The consolidation is a complex anatomical and biochemical process which strengthens memories, making them long term so they can be recalled later. Distractions; from a something large to even the vibration of a phone can entirely disrupt the consolidation process. Sleep is also very beneficial for consolidation, alongside concentration. This is why, if we stay up late studying before a test and only get three hours sleep, our memory is very poor when it is the time to actually write the test.
“The take-home message from a working memory capacity standpoint is this:what we process, we learn. If we’re not processing life, we’re not living it. Live life” – Peter Doolittle
Artificial vs Biological Memory
Biological memory is the memories which are created from our own human experience. Our brain decides on what information to keep, and which information to discard; which constructs the framework that in the basis of our personality.
Artificial memory is the human dependency on resources outside of the brain in order to remember specific things. Some of these things such as books and calculators are extremely helpful in brain development as the help strengthen consolidation. Carr argues that the internet is a source that does not help with our memory- how so?
Carr uses the example of Commonplace books in the chapter as one of the first instances in which artificial manifested. Commonplace books were held by students to document meaningful quotes they found or any connections they made which felt valuable to remember in their studies. For further reading, Ann Moss in her book Printed
Commonplace-books and the Structuring of Renaissance Thought (1999) discusses the role of these books in organizing and analyzing quotes from the studies of renaissance pupils.
Some Questions to ponder:
1. Do you value memorization? What is the place or role of memorization today?
2. Have you ever confronted a problem/challenge that you felt as though you could not solve because of your inability to concentrate? How can we as artists relate to Carr’s struggle to write a book?
3. Carr asks: “How is the way we think changing?”… How is it?
4. What difficulties have you experienced with internet so far?
The Vancouver Industrial band Skinny Puppy, included several samples from 2001: A Space Odyssey in the track Rivers on their 1989 album Rabies. Rivers also includes samples form Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers. It’s been been posted to YouTube including the scenes sampled – so good!
Here’s the link to the intro video of the Chpater 7 + Digression presentation. See if you can watch it at home, or if it’s really just too hard to concentrate for that long:
About the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (the brain region stimulated in experienced internet users, mentioned in the chapter regarding Gary Small’s study)…Where is it located? Well, it’s right here:
Here is the scientific study illuminating the Top-Down processing purposes of the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex:
Here’s the study’s diagram of all of the connections that this brain area makes, in case you’re looking to get straight to the point. With so many connections, it makes sense that it is stimulated when so many functions must be coordinated during Internet use:
Indecisive about your career path? That indecision may be more linked to your Internet use than you think:
Here are some of the University of Guelph’s resources to help you deal with your perfectionism-procrastination complex. Scroll down the page or Ctrl+F “procrastination” to find them:
Trying to quit multitasking and start focusing your attention? You may want to start by turning off all of your push notifications making your phone buzz and beep – they are apparently just as distracting as actually sending texts or checking your apps. Find out more:
Toward the end of the chapter, Carr references a study by Clifford Nass at Stanford, about how the multitasking brain functions. Here is an article that further explains the points touched upon in the book, as well as a TED Talk by Nass exploring his findings:
Here is a great blog post which puts into really understandable terms why we just can’t multitask:
As mentioned in the chapter, our working memory is quite limited, and theorized to only hold 7 items at a time. Marketers know this, and use “grouping” techniques to lump items together in ads so you retain more:
Here’s an example of “grouping” in an ad:
Here’s Torkel Klingberg’s TED Talk on how working memory works, and how you might be able to improve yours:
And here’s a link to his game:
The digression following chapter 7 is about the changes in IQ levels over time. Do you think we’re getting smarter, or are we just thinking differently?
If you’re curious about your IQ score, here’s a link to an online test:
What happens when 2 authors release a book with the same title? In 2006 Emily Schultz published her debut novel Joyland (available in both print book and as an eBook), in 2014 Stephen King released his print only novel with the same title. Despite the fact that the eBook version of Joyland was authored by Emily Schultz, a few hundred people bought (online from Amazon), and read her eBook thinking it was Stephen King’s latest novel!!!!! Some of those people were confused and didn’t like “King’s‘ new book, so they returned to Schultz’s Amazon page to leave negative reviews.
The mistaken purchases resulted in a surprise royalty check for Schultz and because she is an artist, she took the experience to the next level and blogged about how she spent Stephen King’s money.
The introduction of the e-book reader gave us another medium format option for reading books. The first handheld e-book was the Rocket…Check out some of the early devices:
The very things that are supposed to enhance our reading experience, like having links embedded in the text, internet connectivity, the ability to search for definitions, also make it very difficult for a person to get immersed in their book (like the deep reading issue we talked about before). These dynamic “enhancements” act more like interruptions for the reader because there are so many different things embedded within the medium to distract the user and shorten their attention spans.
This allows the reader to quickly dip in and out of the book they may be reading; read a quick few pages on the bus or while waiting in a line. But how much are we really retaining when we do this? There is a lot of debate around this answer. Many studies say that we read slower and less accurately from a screen whereas others believe that there are too many factors involved to choose sides.
Something to think about: our e-readers are even tracking how we read our books: how many pages we read in one sitting, what words we highlight, the total hours to complete a book, etc. Publishing companies want this information in order to tailor the way books are written in order to do things like fine-tune manuscripts to reflect tastes based on the data.
Wall Street Journal Reporter Alexandra Alter talks about how this data shapes the way books are written, click here for the full audio clip.
Vooks: these are more than just e-books, they also have embedded video and links within them. Mimicking the style of the internet. Check it out below:
Interactive e-books are another example of the direction that the ebook is taking:
This format is much more interactive and takes advantage of the many gestures available on the ipad. Software developer, Mike Matas, explains his next generation of e-books:
Cell phone novels are actually books that use cell phones to write stories and are intended to be read on the same device. Writers upload texts to create short stories and readers can post comments and feedback directly to the author based on what they’ve read.
Here is a video describing what cell phone novels are:
“Greatest skill is discovering meaning among contexts that are continually in flux”
– Mark Federman
but is it really?
This video, “How Multitasking Damages Your Brain” by SimplePickup2 demonstrates how multi-tasking is not effective.
Did you guys check this app out? For those of you that didnt, the app is something that tracks how many times you pick up your phone as well as the total screen time. Bored & Brilliant is a podcast with challenges to have you put down your phone and get creative!
Bored & brilliant challenges:
Has anyone ever seen this Portlandia skit? A humourous spin on some of the ideas we’ve discussed- Fred can’t stop checking his devices, so he downloads “Mind-fi” to centralize everything, and makes it worse.
The Reading Brain
More about the reading brain, how to keep and improve your reading skills online and an interview with the “accomplished reader” Maryanne Wolf.
The “Father of Radio” – Lee deForest’s 1952 article Dawn of the Electronic Age (Jan, 1952) in full in Popular Mechanics with images of an atom smasher, a 1929 TV camera and an electric selective-sequence calculator!
Food for Thoughts
“It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.” – Edward Tenner
Watch the TED talk of historian and tech writer Edward Tenner discussing the unintended consequences of new inventions and their impact(s) on the world.
Chapter 4 of “The Shallows” The Deepening Page talks about the evolution of the written word – the way that we started to read symbols to the way that we started to read words. Carr also explains the concept of “deep reading” and also the idea that the Sumerians (who were the first to use a specialised medium for writing) “…had to train their brains to ignore everything else going on around them, to resist the urge to let their focus skip from one sensory cue to another.”
Summary of devices
Cuneiform tablet receipt 2100 BCE for 6 lambs, on (goat) kid
Height 31mm, Width 29mm, Depth 13mm
Ur Dynasty, Sumer-Southern Mesopotamia (present day Iraq)
Judgment scene from the Book of the Dead.
In the three scenes from the Book of the Dead (version from ~1300 BCE) the dead man (Hunefer) is taken into the judgment hall by the jackal-headed Anubis. The next scene is the weighing of his heart, with Ammut awaiting the result and Thoth recording. Next, the triumphant Hunefer, having passed the test, is presented by the falcon-headed Horus to Osiris, seated in his shrine with Isis and Nephthys.
Wax tablet with Stylus
possibly 1 CE
The Vergilius Augusteus is a manuscript from late antiquity, containing the works of the Roman author Virgil, written probably around the 4th century.
Written in Roman Square Capitals
Only 7 leaves of manuscript survive
The octavo of Petrarch a portable book printed by the Italian printer Aldus Manutius.
Circa 1500’s CE
The Dolphin and Anchor – that marked an Aldine book (printed by Aldus), a fashion other printers would employ afterwards.
A page of moveable type is estimated to have taken 1/2 a day to set-up and Gutenberg’s workshop is estimated to have employed 25 craftsmen.
Gutenberg Bible c. 1455
Forty-eight integral copies survive, including eleven on vellum.
Project Gutenberg began in 1971 by Michael Hart (inventor of the electronic book or eBook in 1971) as a community project to make plain text versions of books available freely to all. http://www.gutenberg.org
The collection includes:
The Pencil of Nature by William Henry Fox Talbot
On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin
Relativity : the Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein
Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
What was that over there?
This is a refrigerator lightbulb. According to “Brain Games” on the National Geographic Channel, our brains run on just 12 Watts of power. That’s only about a third of the amount of energy used by that refrigerator bulb.
Not as bright as you thought you were? With such limited resources we can really only concentrate on one thing at a time. According to David Strayer, a psychologist who conducts research on attention at the University of Utah, multitasking is merely an illusion. Instead of balancing the tasks at hand evenly, we simply switch from one activity to another, making us “serial processors”.
The brain has two kinds of attention. The first, called “top-down” is what you use when you choose to focus on a stimulus or task, this could be anything from choosing what to cook for dinner to reading this post. Top-down attention is controlled by the prefrontal cortex, where thinking and problem solving take place in the brain. Secondly, we use “bottom-up” attention when we quickly shift our focus to an unexpected stimulus, such as a mosquito or ringing phone. This thinking is more primitive, and Carr argues that like most of our relatives in the animal kingdom, the natural state of our brain is one of distractedness. Magicians trick you by occupying both forms of your attention; and switching from bottom-up to top-down is no easy task. “MIT neuroscientist Robert Desimone says “It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong (distracting) input” (Ear Plugs to Lasers: The Science of Concentration,” New York Times , May 5, 2009.). There’s a reason why it’s so hard to ignore a text when it flashes at us on our phones. We literally have to train our brain to ignore everything else going on around us in order to read.
If that’s the case, why is it so hard to find a spot in Starbucks around exam time?
Is it easier to drown out a constant stream of stimuli in your surroundings than a single persistent distraction? Would you choose a coffee shop as your workplace or a silent room with a leaky faucet or ticking clock? Researchers at the University of Chicago tested how ambient noise impacted creativity by playing soundtracks at various levels and then asking questions designed to assess creative thinking. They found that when ambient noise was set to 70 decibels (the same noise level found at an average coffee shop), participants performed about 35% better than those who worked in quieter settings. This doesn’t seem so surprising, after all J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in a café (here),. However, the study didn’t measuring concentration, a key skill needed for reading.
In Carr’s original article Is Google Making Us Stupid he argues that online reading avoids the traditional sense of reading we have come to know through books. New forms emerge like the “power browse” and “F-pattern” reading. These forms not only require a different kind of reading, but a different kind of thinking entirely. One that favors efficiency and immediacy, why read the whole article when you can get a “quick win” (as Carr calls it) from the abstract in a fraction of the time. Web content producers are aware of this trend and tailor the content around it, go on any website (like this one: http://www.uoguelph.ca/ or this one: http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/, or even this one: http://www.torontozoo.com/) and chances are you’ll see slightly different versions of “The F Layout”.
Logos are almost always in the top left corner, right where the eye starts. Then the horizontal navigation bar draws the eye out, and catchy words or “sexy” headlines bring the eye back down and out to complete the “F” formation. Newspapers (and even grocery retailers creating their flyers) have always been concerned with “above the fold”, meaning that they wanted to have the catchiest headline or biggest sales above where the fold mark would be so that if it were sitting upright on a table someone would be tempted to pick it up and read the rest. Web designers are aware that most people only do a quick skim read before moving on, so they incorporate the most important information in the first two paragraphs. Wolf and Carr are both concerned that this kind of reading doesn’t allow for deep connections to be made, the reading equivalent of lily dipping.
They are not alone. Playwright Richard Foreman called Net-Gen-ers “pancake people link: http://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/pancake-people/”. He didn’t mean they’d go well with Aunt Jemima (link: http://blog.zisboombah.com/wp-content/uploads/pancake-faces.jpg), but rather that the connectedness that the Net provided was making their knowledge wide but shallow, spread thin. In other words, he believes those that are in the Internet generation are like a jack-of-all -trades, but master of none.
Class Poll: Who considers themselves a reader? What environment do you need to be in to read? Do you prefer digital or tangible methods of reading? Do you get distracted when you read?
There is the idea that we were not born to read. Reading is not natural and that our brain must rewire itself to read. This is according to Leading professor, researcher and author – Maryanne Wolf.
The fact that we are able to read, does not turn us into readers. So then you begin to ask yourself ‘What makes us readers?’ What mysterious force drives a person to spend hours and hours over the pages of a book without any apparent reward and most of the time without any clear objective? I believe that half of the reason of what makes people, “readers”, is passion. If you do not find pleasure in reading, then you aren’t going to read. The idea that we should all be able to “deep read” is preposterous. Deep reading isn’t just reading, deep reading goes beyond reading words from a page, deep reading is a skill that is obtained by practice, passion and determination – it is not automatic and it is not always applicable to everyone.
The idea that Carr is stating that our ability to deep read is being jeopardized because of the influence of the internet is arguable. In an article by The Guardian online [link here] it is argued that “The internet isn’t harming our love of ‘deep reading’, it’s cultivating it”. The internet will always be distracting, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is “harming” our ability for those who can deep read, to deep read. There is the idea that we are a generation of skimming and that our love and skill of reading has diminished, however that idea is refuted by sales of Young Adult blockbusters. Take the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series – there are plenty of young adults who will read those books until their hearts desire, but also will then spend hours on Facebook. The idea that you can’t have one with the other is nonsense.
There is the common misconception that reading is the highest creative skill for you to utilise, can be argued. Award winning writer, Lucy Prebble, said “playing video games requires more involvement and creative input than reading a book or watching a film – and also offers more opportunities to be active and sociable” [full article here]. She said gaming was similar to writing, in that both are private, creative activities very different to watching films or reading books, which involve less input. Video games require the user to make decisions, giving them the chance to influence the story and even in part design the world in which the game is played out, she added. We need to welcome the technological age into our society and accept that not having the ability to be able to deep read is not something that affects your representation in society. There are other creative outlets that we can channel our learning experiences into, a lot of which are linked to the internet.
Why it’s hard to read in the electronic age?
Are we losing the ability to read difficult books? Cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf says we need to develop a “bi-literate reading brain” so that we can switch back and forth between the deep reading of print and the skimming of electronic texts
Link to audio here
Lee deForest the “Father of Radio” and his 1952 article Dawn of the Electronic Age (Jan, 1952) in full, in Popular Mechanics: http://blog.modernmechanix.com/dawn-of-the-electronic-age/
The Audion – the inauguration of electronics
A 3 element vacuum tube used to detect or receive code /voice messages
His device was crude and unreliable until more capable scientists and engineers (http://www.earlyradiohistory.us/sec010.htm) at A. T & T improved upon it.
deForest’s prediction that knowledge would be implanted into the minds of the reluctant brains of 22nd century pupils couldn’t be further from the reality of the world of today.
Technology is possibly/most likely/definitely preventing knowledge from implanting in our brains.
Chapter 3 is a bridge set up between the exploration of neuroplasticity (Chapter 2) and the evolution of the written word (Chapter 4). Carr has set up a variety of “tools” that we use in everyday life that we rely on in an unconscious way – our mental maps, our sense of time and punctuality, and what/how we remember. Carr looks at three historic tools in this chapter; the evolution of maps and how they shape our abstract assumptions of the world into an internal understanding of space and placement; clocks and how our sense of time (and timing) went from a publicly organized indicator to a personal one; and how ‘poetry’ from the Ancient Greeks segued into the written word, altering the emphasis from an oral tradition to a written one.
As we go through this chapter, Carr seems to utilize many Eurocentric assumptions regarding the progress of civilization. There is a huge swathe of humanity that does not feature in his historical analysis, which should be kept in mind. We are brought along a specific path that supports the ideals and lived experiences of his largely North American non-academic audience, which given the real thesis of the book, (that we are able to condition our minds and bodies into certain ways of behaving and remembering, and that the Internet is forming much of that behaviour, unbeknownst to our conscious selves) Carr needs to keep his audience with him until he can explore his thesis in totality. Having said that, let’s look at the tools Carr outlines and how they support his argument.
When discussing maps, Carr states that “the map is a medium that not only stores and transmits information but also embodies a particular mode of seeing and thinking.”(pg.41) Here we see a map from the heady days of global exploration, where the oceans seem manageable and full of vessels (and monsters). Although the lands are not accurate, the map has an overall sense of adventure. Later, a new, more accurate map is created by Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569.
This map allowed for ease of navigation across oceans, but due the fact that the map is flat, but the Earth is round, this map is heavily distorted as it reaches the northern and southern hemispheres making European and North American land masses and the Antarctic absurdly big. Given that this map dominated for over 400 years during which colonization spread across the globe, how does this distortion affect our understanding of countries that seem small? As Carr states, “The more frequently and intensively people use maps, the more their minds came to understand reality in the map’s terms” (pg. 41)
Arno Peters, a German historian, addressed this concern in his 1973 map, the Peters Projection map. Coming out 6 months after the Apollo 17 released their photos of Earth from space, Peters claimed “that his new world map offered the best alternative to the 400-year-old hegemony of Mercator’s 1569 projection, and the supposedly ‘Eurocentric’ assumptions that lay behind it” (pg. 379, Brotton, J. A History of the World in Twelve Maps).
The Peters’ Projection map was adopted by many groups almost immediately, including the UN through UNICEF and UNESCO, Oxfam, Action Aid, and the British Council of Churches with the slogan “New Dimensions, Fair Conditions”, distributing over 60 million maps worldwide (Brotton, 380). But did it go far enough? The video above asks a question about how people would react if the map was shown with the North on the bottom, something that artists like Joaquin Torres Garcia explores in his challenge to view the world with the South at the “top”.
But really, who uses maps anyway? How many of us still have paper maps that we rely on to navigate? Hardly any of us. And why should we when Google Maps has over 10 petabytes of geographical data at our fingertips? (as of 2012, Brotton, pg 406) A petabyte represents 1 million gigabytes! Although there are criticisms about Google maps having a Western bias, and (before 2012) censoring, then (after 2012) not censoring militarily-sensitive sites throughout the world, who is not in awe of the fact that I can type in my Skipton home address and get this:
And we can also look at the moon:
We may need to remind ourselves of the notion that the mapmaker is seeding his/her/its own perspective of the world within and we need to scrutinize our assumptions even as we enjoy the wealth of fast, free knowledge on our phones, computers and tablets.
Maps are also being used in other ways, pushing into the idea that our minds come to understand reality in the maps’ terms. Check out Worldmapper.org to see how they utilize global economic, social and population information to shape maps into representational illustrations of the inequalities of the world:
One more thing, while thinking about how cool it is that we can access 10 petabytes of geographical information via the internet, you might want to check out this animation that shows where internet access is dominant (okay, the data is almost 10 years old, but it shows how not everyone in the world has access to Google Maps. )
The second intellectual technology Carr discusses is clocks.
Humans have had a concept of time way before clocks but this relied almost entirely on the sun either through simple observation of its place in the sky or through sundials. Although they’re mostly used ornamentally, sundials are abundant in our society today and actually surprisingly easy to read – the shadow simply acts as a hour hand on a clock.
Mechanical clocks developed in the 1300s and began the shift in the way people saw time. However these clocks were often public (owned by churches) or owned by only the incredibly wealthy. It’s when these clocks become smaller and more portable that they start changing our everyday lives – this act of measuring time swept us into the enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and new worlds and transportation. This video, sums up that profound impact pretty well.
What this video also notices is how these segments of time now control us. How many things do we do when we actually just want to do them instead of the time to eat, the time to be at work, the time until a shop closes, the time something is due, the time when you can get seven hours of sleep?
Now the mechanical clock that set this ball rolling is no longer accurate enough for our obsession with time, being on it and saving it, as it does actually fall farther behind over the years and it’s user falls behind. Other technologies are pushing the clock to its most accurate so that we can make more exact measurements and calculations.
Our love affair with time is still advancing and with every check of our phones, watches, and microwaves we’re proving that we’re still entirely wrapped up in it.
In this section, Carr discusses the slow, yet inevitable shift from oral to written traditions for Western Civilization. He tells how difficult Hieroglyphics were to learn, having various components, including “logosyllabic systems expanded to include many hundreds of characters…” which was mentally taxing and utilized both hemispheres of the brain (pg.53). Let’s see how hard it really was:
Carr then moves through history to the Ancient Greeks, outlining the arguments both for and against the written language as a usurper of the oral tradition of memorizing long passages of information and relaying them in the form of poetry. As history reveals, and Chapter 4 will expand on, the shift to writing was unstoppable. With it our cultures have been able to retain vast amounts of data that can live on beyond the individuals who wrote them. The price for this has been our personal ability to remember large amounts of information and a cultural skepticism regarding oral traditions in other cultures. A 2014 interview on Day 6 CBC with Dave Woodman, author of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery: Inuit Testimony, explores reasons why the oral legends passed through the Inuit generations were both right and befuddled through translation, cultural context and historical biases. Well worth the listen.
Brotton, Jerry. A History of the World in Twelve Maps, 2012, USA.