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Our Brains on the Internet: A Defense

Illustration for article titled Our Brains on the Internet: A Defense

The debate on how the internet is affecting our brains rages on, with the latest take coming from Nick Bilton on the NYT's Bits Blog. His contention? The web is stretching our brains in new and valuable ways. [NYTimes]

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DISCUSSION

At first, the notion that the Internet is messing up our minds is so absurd that one might think it's just a sad attempt to get attention.

Seek PR points by raising a bogus question? I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you!

But the debate in the Times blog is more focused on the root: reading. A better question has emerged: Does the Internet mess with the brain's natural ability to read?

But even that's a flawed question. Our brain has not "evolved" to read, as some have framed it.

Reading itself "evolved" to fit the existing attributes of the brain. The attributes of fast pattern recognition + abstract meaning = the ability to make quick symbols that have meanings. And those attributes were in large supply before any written language appeared.

That's why cave paintings didn't have captions.

While English is more or less phonetic, obviously that isn't a requirement (Chinese, Egyptian) either, just a convenience.

The Internet feeds humans in very good ways, primarily because it is created at every turn by humans.