In a widely discussed 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, Nicholas Carr asked, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. His answer describes a faltering ability to concentrate and the suspicion that the Internet is a key contributor. “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it, in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Our current students belong to a generation which has been growing up with ubiquitous access to online information and are often referred to as “digital natives” or the “Google generation.” Many claims have been made that this generation process information differently (e.g. The Shallows by N. Carr) going so far as to assert that excessive online “browsing” results in anatomical and physiological changes in the brain (1,2). While we could join the discussion which laments about the perceived or real loss of sustained attention among the members of this generation; or about the inability of many of our students to point out the building on campus which houses the library; or our students’ Facebook obsession; we might easily fall victim to the same fallacy as earlier generation did. Many of our ancestors have resisted the introduction new technologies ranging from the introduction of trains which were supposed to kill all horses to the invention of TV which was perceived as the end of radio. “Intellectual technologies,” have always been vehemently criticized: Socrates thought that the introduction of writing would substitute the knowledge people used to carry inside their heads (3); or the easy availability of books through the arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds (4). Instead we should embrace such intellectual technologies as they can enhance our understanding of the world, “consider how maps and clocks have altered our relation to space and time, developing in us a more abstract sense of the measurement and order of both” (5). We, as dental educators, should initiate a productive discourse about how we might need to adjust our teaching style. How do we modulate the relationship of technology, teaching and the generation of our students? How we deliver information is not just a passive act of transmission–media supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought (6).
Food for thoughts….
1) Small G, Vorgan G. iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
2) Small GW, Moody TD, Siddarth P, Bookheimer SY. Your brain on Google: Patterns of cerebral activation during Internet searching. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2009;17:116
3) Plato’s Phaedrus
4) Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico
5) The Shallows by N. Carr
6) Media theorist Marshall McLuhan