14 July 2006

Report: The next step in brain evolution [Sunday Times]

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Technology is dividing us into digital natives and digital immigrants, says Richard Woods in a long story in the Sunday Times that ponders the impact of rapid digital change on the way we think.

“Emily Feld is a native of a new planet. While the 20-year-old university student may appear to live in London, she actually spends much of her time in another galaxy — out there, in the digital universe of websites, e-mails, text messages and mobile phone calls. The behaviour of Feld and her generation, say experts, is being shaped by digital technology as never before, taking her boldly where no generation has gone before. It may even be the next step in evolution, transforming brains and the way we think.”

“That’s what makes Emily a ‘digital native’, one who has never known a world without instant communication. Her mother, Christine, on the other hand, is a ‘digital immigrant’, still coming to terms with a culture ruled by the ring of a mobile and the zip of e-mails. Though 55-year-old Christine happily shops online and e-mails friends, at heart she’s still in the old world. ‘Children today are multitasking left, right and centre — downloading tracks, uploading photos, sending e-mails. It’s nonstop,’ she says with bemusement. ‘They find sitting down and reading, even watching TV, too slow and boring. I can’t imagine many kids indulging in one particular hobby, such as birdwatching, like they used to.'”

The article goes on to quote Lord Saatchi, Marc Prensky, an American consultant and author, Steven Johnson, author, Dr. Anders Sandberg, who is researching “cognitive enhancement” at Oxford University, Helen Petrie, a professor of human-computer interaction at the University of York, Pam Briggs, professor of applied cognitive psychology at Northumbria University, Nathan Midgley of the TheFishCanSing research consultancy, Andy Clark, a former director of cognitive science at Indiana University and Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University

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