Internet Affects Memory and Thinking

Digital division among people has begun

Academician Kiril Boyanov, Institute of Information and Communication Technologies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

Internet Affects Memory and Thinking

Снимка: EconomyMagazine/Krassimir Svrakov

336 ~ 4 мин. четене
Автор: Yana Koleva

Acad. Boyanov, the smart phone allowed technology to be in our hands, but what is it doing with us?

In his book “The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember”, Nicholas Carr gives an answer to what is happening with our brain. According to him, with the increase of the volume of information and through the social networks, changes in our perceptions take place, and the conclusions that we make are more and more unordered and unstructured. Our consciousness gets used to working with partial information, with separate facts and data that are not connected with each other. As a result, it gets more difficult for a person to deal with bigger texts and larger compositions. The ability to concentrate and memorize gradually decreases. Social networks significantly weaken established habits. Throughout the history of mankind, obtaining more information has enabled people to increase their knowledge.

How did people in Antiquity perceive memory and thinking?

At the time of Plato, it was believed that memory should be used to increase knowledge and improve the ability for constructive thinking. According to him, memory is a super gift of nature, which allows constant improvement of knowledge and the processing of a large amount of information. Practically, in the cultures before script, memory was associated much less with the character of a person than with the social and cultural functions of the individual as a member of society. Plato preached that the development of memory allows for perfection and enables the development of ideas both for the accumulation of wisdom in the individual and for the growth of their role in society. In ancient times, mnemonics had gained special importance as a technique of memorization. This technique had to be mastered by every Greek who claimed to be a poet, philosopher or politician. For them, speech was an important condition in order to be present in the public space, since their contemporaries were mistrustful to a priory-written speech. Script as an “external memory” was spread widely in the society of those days. Its use in the past, however, was not considered a particular advantage. For the Greeks, one of the forms of “external memory” was a group of people who used mnemonics and worked as live reference books. They had the task of memorizing legal, personal or religious information.

We often say that the Internet is a click away and we do not have to remember. What are the consequences of that?

The Internet very quickly divides people into those who look for entertainment and those who enrich their knowledge. The first group will quickly form the class we call “consumer”. The other group will be the so-called “educated elite”. We expect a “digital” division of people, and time will show when the possible destructive social conflicts will arise. The widening “scissors gap” between the poor and the rich will speed up this process. The other scenario of improving people’s skills and abilities by changing genetic material also doesn’t promise anything good. Human senses cannot be perfected indefinitely, and a moment will come when deformation will begin with possible unpredictable consequences. No matter how much an organism is perfected, it has a limit: a hundred meters cannot be run by a person for a second. Here comes the conclusion that for the future development of society, the information flow is becoming more and more important, if not essential.

What will happen to humans in the digital society?

The subject of the research is the intellectual and cultural development of humans in the context of a constant increase in the volume of information and the possibilities for its application. The human being is also connected to the environment and must develop their physical qualities for survival in the surrounding reality. Whether, however, with the addition of more external memory with quick access, the difference between the human being and the super intelligent robot will disappear? To what extend would human abilities stretch in perceiving the vast amount of information and whether the increased technological possibilities, accessible to mankind, will allow everyone to further develop their intellect? Whether one day we will reach a rupture between people working with their intellect and those who have devoted themselves to physical work? These are all questions from the future.

Social networks are becoming too popular. But what is their influence?

They bring people into a virtual world without them being prepared for the risks that arise as a consequence in real life. In many cases, the sensitive private world is invaded, which is sometimes the cause of family conflicts. There are prerequisites for financial frauds against naive people. In a number of cases, intentional harm is done to a proper business, for example through a deliberate complaint about the quality of food in a restaurant. The percentage of Internet users who believe that some social networks should be banned is growing, since they lead to company bankruptcies, damages to the reputation of popular figures through slander and false information, and financial manipulations.

With such a rapid dynamics of change, what approach should be applied to education?

Special attention should be paid to technical and economic education institutions since the dynamics in technology and business processes is significant. Of course, computer technology is becoming more and more widespread in almost all areas of modern education – from natural, humanitarian and social sciences to arts. But their widespread use has both a strong positive effect and certain shortcomings. The problem is that education is a conservative system, and the digital world imposes very different paradigms.

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