iPod. iPhone. iPad. iFlit.

    Digital gadgets are everywhere, and they are changing the rhythms and rituals of daily life. But are they changing them for better or worse?

    In this week’s “Centre Square” commentary, Chris Satullo ponders that question.


    [audio: satullo20100613.mp3]

    An Atlantic magazine cover posed the question crisply a few years back:

    “Is Google rewiring our brains?”

    The answer seems to be yes.

    Not just Google, but the whole array of digital seductions that surround us, the iPhones, iPads, Facebooks and Foursquares.

    Sifting through the data cascades of this wired world can actually change the circuitry of our brain.

    Here’s an irony: This rewiring isn’t so much propelling us into a sci-fi future as returning us, in an evolutionary sense, to the prehistoric grasslands, the veldt.

    As a great piece in the New York Times recently detailed, brain researchers are exploding the myth of the hyper-efficient multi-tasker. That guy with the Bluetooth, Blackberry and Macbook fired up simultaneously? He probably isn’t doing the great job of absorbing, judging and producing that he thinks he is. What he’s mostly great at, the research suggests, is getting distracted.

    Blame it on the veldt. Our most primitive brain wiring rewards us with a sizzling squirt of dopamine whenever we rivet attention on a new stimulus. Why? That new information might be a hungry lion approaching. Nowadays, though, it’s more likely to be an inane Tweet from a tedious celebrity. No matter, the brain pivots eagerly. This could be important!!!

    One of the hardest truths for Americans to grasp is that change is not always progress.

    Yes, there’s much to celebrate in a world where so much information, once available only to elites, is just a mouse-click away for many. But information is not the same as knowledge. It’s yet another step away from understanding, and a very long walk from wisdom.

    Thanks to Google, we can “know” fabulous amounts more than our ancestors did – yet sometimes all that does is make us quicker to fall for toxic fallacies.

    Inside the cascade, it’s easy for lies to masquerade as facts. And as information drenches us, human nature still leads us cling mostly to those factoids that happen to confirm our biases.

    We are maddening creatures. And nothing Steve Jobs invents can change that. Let’s just take care that our gadgets don’t drive us even more mad.

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