Picked up an interesting tweet that led to an article by Susan Greenfield about how computers may not be the most appropriate intervention in schools. Her critique is that the way we use computers, essentially to graze for bits of information, is damaging our ability to think at length and in detail about a topic. You might be surprised to hear me say this but I think she has a point. I’m largely unimpressed by claims that children and young people can “multi-task” much better than adults. All the evidence I’ve seen points to the fact that they are actually pretty rubbish at multi-tasking, if by multi-tasking you mean the simultaneous achievement of multiple and complex objectives. (That’s not a dig at the younger generation. I freely admit I’m rubbish at it too, but that is because it is an extremely difficult thing to do. In fact I don’t think I know of anyone who can do it)
Where I disagree with the article is that I don’t think its “computers” per se that are causing this rewiring of our brain. The key phrase in the above paragraph is “The way we use…”. I think it’s what we assess in schools, and what we value as a society that are at the root of the problem. In education we are forced to focus on the product, rather than the process of learning. (Look at the press hysteria about ‘dumbing down’ that comes out every time the A level results are published for example.) It’s symptomatic of an obsession with “productivity”, which is certainly not exclusive to education. If all we do is reward people for ‘producing’ then I suspect that “product” is all we’ll get, irrespective of whether it’s any good, or any use to anyone. And if that’s all you want, then information grazing is a pretty good way to get it.
I blame the protestant work ethic! Work of the Devil if you ask me!