Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Emoticons as Evidence of Evolution

Talk about impact, nearly a year later, people continue referencing Nicholas Carr's July 2008 Atlantic article, 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?'.

For instance, 'In Why Can't We Concentrate?' writer Laura Miller leads with Carr in her recent Salon review of Winifred Gallagher's new book, 'Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life'. 'Rapt' is about attention, itself.

I crafted a musician's response to Carr's article in September 2008, shortly after I became aware of it. It's the sort of topic that everybody wants to weigh in on, which is why we're still returning to it. It simply takes time for nine billion people to link to the Atlantic and post a comment.

Expanding on the notion, I don't believe the use or increasing reliance on interactive tools for communications is actively dumbing us down.

Rather, I think the collective medium of Internet and Interactive technologies combined has changed the way we think (and continues to do so).

There maybe as of yet little or no scientific analysis to support this claim, but my position is nevertheless based on sound reasoning.

First, you may be happy to learn, that: No, I don't think you're stupid.

Everybody else thinks you're stupid because they feel stupid, and they assume you must share the same inability to concentrate as they do. What's going on? Carr blames it on Google. Parents blame it on television, the internet, MTV, video games, et al. But those conclusions are symptomatic of a mass delusion, if you ask me.

I believe we've simply evolved. Maybe you didn't realize it until now. Or if you did intuit a gradual change in your cognitive processes (that couldn't be linked to age related causes, drug use or love), perhaps you didn't understand (and perhaps still don't understand) how your newly transformed brain functionality has changed you (and continues to change you).

In fact, the process draws a neat parallel to a washing machine cycle: Rinse, recycle, repeat. Or a feedback loop running circles through a Marshall amp.

I offered the following supposition in the September, 2008 article, 'Musician Under the Influence (of Technology)':

"Maybe we do read less books, but we're arguably CREATING more. It's also possible any diminished interest in text is the result our cognitive systems are undergoing a reorientation towards (or evolutionary preference for) pictographic writing systems (SMS shorthand, emoticons, branding, etc...), over traditional communication via the written word."

It may strike you as funny, but note that the underlying subtext is:

Exposure to –and sustained use of– Interactive technology results in the restructuring of cognitive processes so that so-called 'normal' people's brains increasingly resemble brains belonging to musicians and designers.

No surprise then if so many suddenly feel discombobulated. It's as if recent new media technologies have injected world's population with a shot of neurocircuit Be Bop.

But before Google, before Twitter, before Facebook, AOL, Explorer, Netscape and the World Wide Web itself, before Apple and before Microsoft:

Anyone capable of reading and performing from traditional music notation had already arrived in the future a long, long time ago. That's because a music score is essentially a pre-digital Graphical User Interface.

Interested in reading the original rebuttal in its entirety? Click on the link (if you're still among the focused few):

Musician Under the Influence (of Technology)
Originally posted Friday, September 05, 2008

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