Your Brain on Computers

The New York Times is running an interesting series called “Your Brain on Computers,” which investigates the impact of technology on everyday life. According to the NY Times, the series aims to examine “how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave.” So far, the series comprises three articles:

Of interest as well are some of the sidebar information:

As you can probably tell by the headlines, many of these articles paint heavy use of technology as a potential danger. For example, in Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, Matt Richel writes:

While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.

I would imagine most readers of this blog have a more positive experience with technology than presented in these articles. Do the research and anecdotes reflect your experiences with technology?

<update>Steven Pinker, in his article, Mind Over Mass Media also from the New York Times, is not responding directly to the Your Brain on Computers series, but he certainly is addressing very similar issues and presents a seemingly contradictory point of view:

Critics of new media sometimes use science itself to press their case, citing research that shows how “experience can change the brain.” But cognitive neuroscientists roll their eyes at such talk. Yes, every time we learn a fact or skill the wiring of the brain changes; it’s not as if the information is stored in the pancreas. But the existence of neural plasticity does not mean the brain is a blob of clay pounded into shape by experience.

Perhaps it’s safe to say the jury is still out on these issues.

</update>

“Youth Safety on a Living Internet”: Report of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group

The “Youth Safety on a Living Internet” report from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s  Online Safety and Working Technology Group, released Friday, June 4, advises that scare tactics related to online safety and blocked access to social networking sites is detrimental and does more harm than good to youth.   The findings of this report bolsters the efforts of librarians and educators to fight restrictive filtering policies that block students’ access to  content that can be used to help youth access, read, write, and interact with multiple forms of media via the web.

According to Larry Magid, Technology Journalist for the Huffington Post and member of this task force:

” What we concluded is that we need to go beyond worrying about predators and pornography and start thinking about young people as active participants – true citizens – in an increasingly interactive online environment where young people are just as likely to create content as they are to consume it.”

Teens and the Internet: The Future of Digital Diversity

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently posted the slides from a presentation given by Kristen Purcell called Teens and the Internet: The Future of Digital Diversity.

The presentation provides many useful statistics about current use patterns of various technology, such as Internet usage by age of user, Internet access by type (cable modem, dsl, etc), and the percentage of teens with cell phones.

Study: How The American Public Benefits from Internet and Computer Access at Public Libraries

The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries (pdf), is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. It was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The executive summary (pdf)  is only 12 pages long and worth a complete read.  Some key points I pulled out:

  • Over the past year, 45 percent of the 169 million visitors to public libraries connected to the Internet using a library computer or wireless network during their visit
  • As the nation struggled through a historic recession, nearly one-third of the U.S. population over the age of 14 used library Internet computers and those in poverty relied on these resources even more
  • The library’s role as a technology resource has exploded since 1996, when only 28 percent of libraries offered Internet access.
  • up to a third of all libraries say they lack even minimally adequate Internet connections to meet demand. More report that they cannot provide the access their patrons truly need
  • 44 percent of people in households living below the federal poverty line ($22,000 a year for a family of four) used public library computers and Internet access.
  • Among young adults (14–24 years of age) in households below the federal poverty line, 61 percent used public library computers and Internet for educational purposes.
  • Among seniors (65 and older) living in poverty, 54 percent used public library computers for health or wellness needs.

My personally favorite fact

nearly two-thirds of library computer users (63 percent) logged on to help others.

Recommendations from the report:

  • State and local government should include libraries in comprehensive broadband deployment and adoption strategies.
  • Business and government agencies should engage libraries in economic and workforce development strategies.
  • State and local education reform initiatives should partner with and invest in public libraries to broaden educational opportunities for K-12 students and adults.
  • Public and private health officials and organizations should support the public library as a partner in disseminating health and wellness information and as a resource for future health communications research.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies should support libraries as points of access for eGovernment services. Government agencies are moving a
  • Support technology services that build communities.

Digital Literacy Skills Essential to Closing Broadband Gap #knightcomm

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy sites the Broadband Adoption and Use in America (pdf) report released by the Federal Communications Commission in Digital Literacy Skills Essential to Closing Broadband Gap when emphasising the importance and need for digital literacy

The survey findings reinforce the growing body of research that finds digital literacy skills are critical to bridging the gap between those who are able to fully participate in the information age and those who live as second-class citizens in informed communities

How do we close this gap? The Knight Commission recommends support and funding for public libraries.

Enhancing the information capacity and digital literacy skills of individuals isn’t limited to traditional educational institutions, however. The Commission recognized that digital skills are skills to be acquired and honed over a lifetime, and that other community institutions, organizations and individual citizens have a role to play. Along these lines, the Commission has recommended that  communities fund and support public libraries and other community institutions as centers of digital and media training, especially for adults (recommendation #7).

Links

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 258 other followers

%d bloggers like this: