The future of the mind
A while ago, I read “Future Minds” by Richard Watson, the author of one of my favourite books on future trends, “Future Files”. In this new book, he discusses the dangers of the internet, particularly for kids. Describing today’s youth as “screenagers,” he shows how constant exposure to social media has created a generation of scatter-brains who have no ability for retention or deep thought.
I found Watson’s thesis somewhat disturbing. Other books (such as “Fun Inc.” and “The kids are alright”) state the opposite – that computers (and computer games) are actually very good for kids. Video games help better problem-solving ability, better attitude to failure, all good stuff.
Then I picked up “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr, and my heart sank. Here are some of the tweets I sent out as I read the book:
- As we come to rely on computers to understand the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence
- We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunter-gatherers in the electronic data forest.
- 5 hours of the Internet is enough to rewire the brain. Imagine what a few years have done to yours
- Heavy use of Google has neurological consequences
- By choosing the computer, we have rejected the single-minded concentration of the book and cast our lot with the juggler
- Brain study shows that reading is NOT a passive exercise. The reader becomes the book. Do you want to become your browser?
- Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words, now I zip on the surface like a guy on a jet ski.
Here are some more quotes from the book:
- “We become, neurologically, what we think”
- “The history of language is also a history of the mind”
- “The Net further fragments content and disrupts our concentration”
- “Hyperlinks distract people from reading and thinking deeply”
- “Long-term memory is the seat of understanding”
No more deep thinking
And here is the kicker: “The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again”.
Carr bases his book on very convincing research in the area of neuroscience: the plasticity of the brain, short-term memory, long-term memory, constant distraction, deep thinking, information, knowledge, wisdom, retention, IQ, attention span (how many times do you check for e-mails?), empathy and lots more. That alone makes the book worthwhile.
He concludes that we are what we think – we are becoming like the computer, we are scatterbrains, we are what he calls “pancake people”, spread wide and thin, with no depth. This is a deeply, deeply disturbing book particularly if you have kids growing up.
On a positive note; it makes a passionate plea for the book as an instrument of solitary, single-minded concentration – and argues the need for reflection and deep thought (a book does get through to your long-term memory).
This is good news for our Bookbuzz sessions. The fact that our methodology is at the cutting edge of neuroscience was spotted by neuroscientist Dr. Kevin J. Fleming, CEO of Grey Matters International: “By paradigmatically changing the landscape of how we think about our thinking when it comes to solution-making, Bookbuzz have struck gold. Their secret sauce is that they are changing the implicit environment behind the learning itself. As a specialist in executive behaviour change, I can attest that in terms of promoting true change within an organization, Bookbuzz is the real deal.”
By combining the two oldest media in the world, the spoken word and the book, Bookbuzz is an effective antidote to the scatterbrain and the pancake mind. Bookbuzz encourages the “slow flow” movement that “Future Minds” suggests we should make part of our daily lives.
Define the enemy
Ever since I read Robert Greene’s “The 33 Strategies of War,” I have been trying to define our enemy. “Future Minds” has now identified the enemy of Bookbuzz: it’s Google! In the movie “The Mouse that Roared,” a tiny principality declares war on the USA in order to be defeated and to receive oodles of aid. Their plan goes wrong when the USA surrenders. I can safely declare that we are quite prepared to accept Google’s surrender.