ARGUMENT: The Internet impairs our ability to contemplate and concentrate for long, sustained periods of time

AN ex-colleague of mine (Ryan Calder) started an interesting debate about the Internet on Facebook. He was asking whether or not people thought that the Internet (and cyber culture in general) impairs our ability to concentrate. Some of the comments were quite interesting.

Does the Internet impair our ability to concentrate?

Kathryn: It's a complete problem. I actually disconnect when I have to graft properly now. It's to easy to justify looking at loads of irrelevant poop when you're permanently online.

T.J.: I have to force myself to write sometimes in places without the internet, and it's like de-toxing.

Ryan: At least your attention span isn't completely diminished... you both managed to engage in this status update momentarily.

Hayden: Yup, and video games and cartoons too. The brain learns to discard information at the same rate it receives it. What it doesn't learn to do is differentiate between PC time and real time so we end up discarding information constantly even when we shouldn't.

Lesley: Those of us who teach have seen this change for years! Certainly true. Not just the Internet - all technology.

Ryan: But isn't the Internet subsuming most technology? So increasingly, most gadgets have the Internet inherent in them?

Hayden: It is, and I find that the things I want to do have become over reliant on the internet. We have been conditioned into being reliant on the web for many things we wouldn't have been able to do in the past. Also most gadgets don't work without internet connectivity so we're stuck.

Marek: Ryan, I agree with you. People don't read anything else than short status updates and re-posts, moving constantly from one to the next. It is like people develop ADD from the moment they learn to use a mouse.

Tamlyn: Have you seen what it's doing to teenagers' spelling and grammar!? If you look at the Facebook page of the average teenager it looks like the person is half-witted!! I often have to have a 'face break' as I call it and take a week or so of no FB and of read books only.... feels like I'm saving my brain cells when I do it!

Marek: I do not entirely agree with Hayden on the video games and comics, though. Some of these require intense concentration.

Hayden: They do Marek but the rate of information being sent to the brain is so high that one cannot possibly retain it all so the brain sees it and discards it moments later as the games progress. So while they promote reasoning and good response they also train the brain to rapidly discard information that isn't immediately relevant. I see it in my own children and how it affects proper learning. It makes it that much more difficult to teach them when their brain is constantly discarding what they are presented with. As a result I limit video games to just a few hours on weekends.

Marek: Tamlyn, not only teenagers' spelling and grammar, but many adults too. And it is not the internet, but texting on cellphones, which usually with a certain level of maturity improve. It is also linked to social standing, and level of education with certain racial groups more prone than others.

Marek: I agree with you there, Hayden. I personally do not play video games, and I fully agree with you limiting childrens' gaming, using Whatsapp, Mxit and Facebook. I have a 20 year old student recently moving in with me, who in the beginning was constantly texting on Whatsapp. Meals are taken sitting down at the table, phones are left ringing or switched off, plugged out, with me setting the example. Texting now after a mere 3 months has been reduced to the bare minimum. Now I just have to get him off 9Gag :-)

Hayden: In our house too. My children will only get phones and Facebook etc. when there is a need for it. At dinner time Skype etc. gets ignored and we now only eat in front of the TV on a Friday pizza night as a treat. No phones at the table either. They only get discovery channel etc. in the morning as I find the cartoons just pout them in idle mode, which isn't good before school. Two hours of TV at night and that's it.

Andre: Case in point: I just read this thread and can't remember what the original status was. That being said, I do love knowing everything in the blink of an eye.

Marek: I don't have TV. I refuse to have the drone in the background, or constant streaming of propaganda and other mindless rubbish into my home. I prefer to choose what I allow into my home, and that applies to people too.

Hayden: Case in point. I just Googled a quote to "remember" where it was from. Too much effort to remember the old school way.

Marek: hahahahaha, I often have to Google stuff too, but I do have dictionaries lying around on my desk, just in case Google is wrong.

Hayden: I find it easier to type a quote in rather than wrack my brains to remember. Bad news I tell you.

Dave: It isn't the internet per se but our connectedness to it. Change to my provider and enjoy automatically facilitated periods of contemplation.

Hayden: ha ha ha, you mean downtime Dave?

Dave: Yeah. Except that downtime usually only provokes the kind of contemplation that focuses negatively on the service provider and raises blood pressure.

Ryan: Contemplation is becoming increasingly difficult. My brain thinks differently to how it used to. It only functions if there are diversions. It's a problem... I haven't even read all these comments...

Hilary: And I thought it was old age that was doing that!

Barrett: False... I am dyslexic and find it helps.

Galen: Interesting discussion! We are living in an era of instant gratification, which is largely fueled by web-culture. I think the shocking spelling & grammar is not a result of the Internet but rather created by teenagers themselves. Re video games: this really depends on what is played. They can do wonders for lateral & creative thinking, hand-eye co-ords and arguably even improve eyesight. I'd much rather have all the above than be fed television and have my brain die.

Marita: One of the contributing factors is surely that people no longer read books. There are so many digital connections out there that there is never any reason to pick up a book. A book demands that you get involved, concentrate on the characters and remember who they are. When young people come to University they are overwhelmed by the amount of required reading, because they have never developed the skill.

Barrett: The main point is that parents are being ripped off and kids not given the education they deserve. It has been proven that the SA education system is a mess and not worth the paper its written on.

*****

I'd like to note that I had to correct spelling and grammar for nearly every single one of these comments. Case in point?

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THE INTERNET: Feel free to be a jerk

Guest post by Tharuna Devchand

SO a little while ago the Mail & Guardian suspended a journalist intern for an anti-Semitic comment on Facebook that amounted to hate speech and was therefore in conflict with the South African Constitution. Without a warning, the kid’s career was ruined because of a social networking site where groups like “My name is Khan” (a group that disrespects Hinduism) and “F*** Islam” exist with thousands of followers who spread the hatred.

I’m not justifying what Ngoako Matsha said, nor am I implying that M&G was wrong in suspending him, but consider the medium in which he said it — cyberspace.

In cyberspace, every person should be seen as a figment of their own imagination­. Nothing is real. Nothing we say is a true reflection of who we are. On the Internet, we are all Tyler Durdens. There are no boundaries, no policies and rules to keep us neatly between the lines, no reputations to uphold or cultural conventions to keep us in place.

The Internet is like a global Fight Club. It’s where we can guiltlessly des­troy something beautiful and return to our lives feeling better about ourselves. It’s cathartic and, since we all can’t be Jackson Pollocks, it may sometimes be our only outlet.

I constantly hear people complaining about how perfect their Facebook friends’ lives are or what interesting lives other people on Twitter have. It’s not true. It’s just what people choose to show you on the website that makes it all seem perfect.

Social networking sites house a giant­ community of people all suffering from small-penis syndrome. There is a constant war to keep up with the cyber Joneses. Saying that people exaggerate on the Internet about their lives, their feelings, their opinions and how great their lovers are is an understatement. If peer pressure in real life can drive one to do things one normally wouldn’t do, the pressure to be infamous on the Inter­net can land one in a mental institution. Gosh knows what Anthony Weiner was thinking when he tweeted a photo of his, um ... weiner­.

While it is never easy to work out the true nature of a person in real life, it is 1 000x harder in cyberspace. On the Net, you can be anything and anyone you want to be.

Those who aren’t that popular or who lack friends may upload albums of them being cool with photos of them sloshed with their heads in a toilet just to show that they can party with the best of them. People who are going through tough times may exaggerate all the positive things in their lives and leave out the hardships. And people who are quite restricted or oppressed in their real lives, may go cyber crazy, voicing outrageous opinions and desires on the Net — probably under a pseudonym. It’s a safe outlet that we believe has no consequences — until we lose our jobs for letting loose.

The problem is that there is no line that determines how far is too far until we cross it. We constantly push the boundaries of what is right and wrong just to see how far we can go, whether it’s driving at 129 km/h in a 120 km/h zone or voicing mad love for Adolf Hitler and his beliefs.

Contemporary society has become mostly unaffected by things that are shocking or at least used to be shocking a decade ago, and to deal with this, people try to raise the bar. Cartoonists, comedians and teachers are continually trying to shock people into thinking about things on a different level. Look at how far advertisements have gone to prevent people from drinking and smoking excessively, and to encourage people to abstain from sex, and you’ll see just how just how numb our society is.

Is it okay for me to call my black friend a k***** on her Facebook wall knowing that she won’t be offended? Is it okay to tweet angrily about how upset I am about something the DA said and in turn label it as racist, not because I think that they are racist, but because I just feel the need to put the party down? No, but it feels good.

The South African Constitution currently doesn’t apply to the Internet. Maybe it should, but I doubt that will stop people from saying things, uploading videos and creating images that are shocking. Every day there are more stories of people being judged by their online images. Employers hire people based on their tweets, courts implicate people because of Facebook profile photos, people are fired because of some YouTube video that shows them spray painting expletives on a wall. But it’s those things that make us cool on the Net, that get us hits, that make us believe that this could one day make us famous.

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