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With regards to the World Wide Web as a form of media, author Hermann Maurer of the Association for Computing Machinery states in his scholarly article entitled “Does the Internet Make us Stupid” that, “ICTs (information and communications technology) are indeed reducing many of our cherished cognitive facilities, much as our physical fitness has been reduced by all kinds of machinery for physical work and locomotion (Maurer).” In addition, Maurer then goes on to quote Professor Michael Merzenich of the University of California San Francisco as saying, “I am profoundly worried about the cognitive consequences of the constant distractions and interruptions the Net bombards us with. The long-term effect on the quality of our intellectual lives could be deadly (Maurer).” On a rudimentary level, the quotes utilized by Maurer raises startling concerns regarding technology and its potential effects as it advances. This is terrifying concept to muse over, especially when considering that the United States Department of Commerce states in their article entitled “Fact Sheet: Digital Literacy,” that, “Approximately ninety-six percent of Americans use technology in their daily lives (United States Department of Commerce).” Consequently, the implications of the type of message that the internet inadvertently delivers is that civilization is transitioning into an exclusively web-based society that is dependent on both the internet and technology as its main form of media, which is, in turn, having negative effects on critical thinking and cognitive abilities. These undesirable properties are exemplified in how heavily the world relies on the two, and in how people in general seemingly expect the internet to find and process information for them as quickly as possible. Also, these disadvantageous effects are demonstrated in how society has essentially adapted globally in a way to incorporate it to meet the demands of today’s social order. Although the internet and the technology associated with it is an extremely useful tool, it is crucial for this generation to access behavioral patterns in association with the internet in order to better incorporate it into common culture, while still not becoming completely dependent on the internet and technology and maintaining critical thinking capabilities, as well as an individual sense of creativity. With consideration of the internet as a form of media, it is critical that society as a whole uses caution in the ways that it adapts to a rapidly changing technological world by researching behavioral techniques to better incorporate it into people’s lives without impeding on cognitive, critical thinking, and creative abilities.

According to Psychology Ninth Edition by the Professor Emeritus of the University of Illinois, Douglas Bernstein, “Many forms of adaptation follow the principles of learning. Learning is the adaptive process through which experience modifies pre-existing behavior and understanding (Bernstein 197).” Bernstein and Penner go on to elaborate on the matter further as they discuss the concept of latent learning as they note, “Latent learning is a process of learning in which it is not evident that it is occurring (Bernstein and Penner 225).” Essentially, the statements issued by Bernstein claim that learning is merely the process in which people adapt to their environment, and in some cases, may not have the proper insight to be aware that it is even occurring. M.A. Nicholas Carr of the University of Harvard articulates his concerns regarding the ways that the general population has adapted to the internet in his book Shallows: What is the Internet Doing to People’s Brains, as he comments, “The computer is more than just a simple tool that does what it is told to do. It is a machine that, in subtle but unmistakable ways, exerted an influence over those who use it. The more one used it, the more it alters the way they worked” (Carr 29). Consequently, the chilling trepidations that Carr raises demonstrates how that in adapting to the technological era of today’s society, society as a whole is in a sense developing a type of latent learning in which they are seemingly become dependent on the use of the internet in their daily lives, and to a certain degree may be unconscious of the fact. For instance, on a day-to-day basis, people rely on the internet to take care of such mundane tasks as managing our pecuniary affairs through direct deposit, to shop by means of e-commerce websites, to do our school work, and have even gotten to the point where the vast majority of socializing is done online via social media websites such as Facebook, as if the lines and pictures that are seen before us on a screen could ever constitute as authentic human connectivity. As a result, the very scary reality is that humanity as a whole is, in fact, becoming a society in which technology is beginning to surpass the need for human interaction. In short, the social order in today’s world is unintentionally teaching itself and later generations to use the internet not as a tool, but as a means to, basically, do the work for those who use it. As frightening as this concept may seem, it is not nearly as daunting as the consequences that this may have. In relying on a resource to do the work so to speak, society may very well expect to see a decrease in cognitive and critical thinking abilities, which research has already suggested.

With regards to the properties of the internet in today’s society, Nicholas Carr states, “The media isn’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation (Carr 30).” To further illustrate his point, Carr notes, “The intellectual technologies it (the internet) has pioneered promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage any deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative (Carr 34).” Carr is not alone in expressing this viewpoint of the use of the Net in today’s technologically-based society. Maurer makes it painstakingly obvious that his perspective on the matter is similar to that of Carr as he quotes the Head of School of Teacher Education at Charles Stuart University, Australia, and author of The University of Google Tara Brabazon as saying, “I’m particularly worried by the evidence that I’ve collected , which shows that reading with understanding and creative writing is markedly reduced in students who use ICTs intensively and that concentrated thinking and attention spans appear to have been reduced (Maurer).” Essentially, the argumentation of both Maurer and Carr conveys a disturbing message regarding the internet, in that as society becomes increasingly more dependent of the internet in everyday life that the consequence of this action is that it is reducing such human capabilities as attention, critically thinking, cognitive functions, and creativity in exchange. These are extremely valuable assertions made by both Carr and Maurer when considering that learning from the perspective of the youth today is nothing but a mere google search, youtube video, or click away. Yet, the harsh reality is that in doing so, the only thing that is actually being learned is how to stare off into a blank screen. There is a vast difference between actually acquiring and retaining knowledge, and regurgitating the raw data that is distributed by the means of a glowing box, and in which the information in itself is questionable based on the credibility of the website. Subsequently, the case made by both Carr and Maurer with regards to the applications of the internet raises significant philosophical questions with regards to the field of epistemology.

According to Donald Abel’s Fifty Readings Plus: An Introduction to Philosophy, epistemology is essentially, “The study of the nature and grounds of knowledge” (Able 133). In addition, Abel goes on to mention that the philosophical field of epistemology is divided into two different branches, which are that of empiricism and rationalism. On the one hand, empiricist argue that knowledge is attained through sensory experience, whereas rationalist believe that knowledge is obtained through the operations of the mind (Able 135). If it is somewhat of a universally-accepted pedagogy that we learn either through experience, or, through the operations of our mind, then what is the digital age teaching itself in relying so heavily on ICTs? When discussing the matter, Ph.D. Kamer Gur, Seher Yurt, and Serap Bulduk of Nursing and Health Sciences mention the implications of this behavior in their article Internet addiction and physical and psychological behavior among rural secondary school student that, “Addiction is defined as an inability to stop using a substance or to control its use” (Bulduk, Gur, Yurt). Moreover, Bulduk, Gur, and Yurt also state in their scholarly article that, “An individual can be described as dependent on the internet if five of the following eight criterion are met: Excessive preoccupation with the internet, needing to stay on the internet for long periods of time, unsuccessful attempts to reduce online activity, withdrawal symptoms, problems with scheduling times such as daily activities, jeopardizing relationships, using the internet to avoid problems or negative feelings, and dishonest attempts to connect to the internet” (Bulduk, Gur, Yurt). This is a frightening notion to consider because it almost irrevocably insinuates that popular culture today is teaching itself to be heavily dependent on the internet for daily tasks, especially when considering that ninety-percent of American’s actively use the internet in their daily lives. Furthermore, this argumentation is further bolstered by the research of Jana Zverina of the University of California San Diego in her 2013 collegiate article entitled “U.S. Media Consumption to Rise to 15.5 Hours Per Day-Per Person-By 2014”. In her article, Zverina notes, “In 2008, American’s used internet media for a total of 1.3 trillion hours, an average of 11 hours per person per day. By 2012, total consumption had risen to 1.46 trillion hours, for an average of 13.6 hours per person. Based on these findings, it is expected that the average American will spend up to 15.5 hours per day” (Zverivna). Once again, these findings deliver a frightening message that in adapting to technological trends of this era, that popular culture is becoming severely dependent on the internet as its means of media. Which brings forth further questions, such as at what cost? With regards to learning, Bernstein describes a detrimental consequence of learning certain behaviors with the psychological concept of extinction learning, which is “The gradual disappearance of a conditional response when a conditional stimulus is no longer followed by an unconditioned stimulus” (Bernstein 202). On a rudimentary level, this condition of learning implies that as an individual learns one behavior, it replaces another, and thus it becomes extinct. In the case of modern society’s addiction with the use of ICTs as the main source of media, the technologically based culture of today is involuntarily replacing behaviors with internet interactivity, and it is for these reasons that it is imperative that this generation researchers behavioral techniques to ensure that further technological advancements do not have detrimental consequences, such as reduced cognitive, critical thinking, or other psychological abilities on future generations to come. In the conclusion of his article, Maurer state his assertion that, “The Net (and other ICTs) will also “make us more stupid” as far as some of our cognitive capabilities are concerned. This should be accepted by us if two important points are not forgotten: that society must not become completely dependent on technology and that we must retain the capability for logical thinking and creativity” (Maurer). Also, Maurer suggests that, “Before we understand the full impact of ICT on our brain and our thinking, caution is essential. Thus, major challenges for further research and the study of behavioral patterns are to find out what we can outsource and what we better retain in our own brain” (Maurer). When considering how dependent today’s modern society as a whole is on technology and the media associated with the internet, it is crucial that society heeds the words of both Carr and Maurer’s precautionary message. As both technology and the internet continue to globalize, thus making it and a necessity for everyday life, it is crucial that our generation conducts the necessary research to ensure that we can incorporate it into our life in the healthiest fashion plausible.

With consideration of the message that is being conveyed by the internet as a means of media, it is vital that today’s society develops precautionary research methods regarding the behavioral effects that technology has on individuals who use them in order to prevent detrimental psychological problems such as impaired cognitive, critical thinking, and creative abilities. Fundamentally, the advancements in modern technology has exhibited many inadvertent effects on civilization on today’s digital era, and on the people that use the internet as a main source of media to meet the demands of today’s social order. On a very microscopic level, popular culture has adapted to incorporate the use of technology in everyday life, which in turn replaces other learned behaviors. Macroscopically, this adaptation of technology into society on a global level has generated negative consequences such as internet dependency, which in turn has created further detrimental effects such as reduced cognitive, critical thinking, and creative ability in those who use it actively. Furthermore, the learned behaviors that individuals develop in integrating the internet and the technology associated with it into their lives also have an effect in which other behaviors are being replaced as they do so through the process of extinction. Subsequently, it is crucial that this generation begins to develop research methods to observe the correlation between both behavior and the internet in order to prevent these negative consequences from prevailing in further generations as both the internet and technology become more necessary in day-to-day life, and so that its integration can be done in a way that is healthy, and does not impede on the capacities of the mind. It was the brilliant-minded physicist Albert Einstein noted, “I fear the day that technology surpasses the need for human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots” (Einstein). That being said, mankind owes it to itself to investigation ways to alternative ways to assimilate to the internet and other technological means of media in order to prevent the very plausible world that Einstein feared. In the late words of President John. F. Kennedy, “Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all,” and it would serve all of humankind well to never forget that.

 

A.W.

 

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