Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ads, Blogs, Youth, and the Changing Landscape

When I was a little kid, I used to hear adults say things such as, "Where do they get all of that energy?" I had no idea what they were talking about. When I was a 'tween, I used to hear my dad say things such as, "Youth is wasted on the young."

Now a couple of decades later I understand. I have no idea how my kids do a daily impersonation of the Energizer Bunny, and I see too many young people wasting the merits of youth.

As I have mentioned here before, the Internet seems finally to be accomplishing its first cognitively interesting task. Technology is creating social networks -- as mentioned here in a comment by a former IU colleague -- and it is changing the way they communicate and live. I will admit that most "new media" research has thus far failed to interest me. These new media are changing too quickly for us to chronicle on a social science timeline. Things are changing before we can get a human subjects application approved. By the time a "new media" study is published in an academic journal, the landscape is altogether different.

There is something frenetic about the Internet. First I was addicted to e-mail. Now it is to Weblogs and other sites. I seem to need to check for new things constantly. And I hate it. But I hate it less than not knowing whether there is something new that I am missing.

I have read work in media displacement that suggests that new media don't necessarily displace traditional media use (although I am sure there is research on both sides of the debate). However, the sheer number of hours that my undergraduates report using sites such as Facebook and Webshots, means that it must be displacing something. And we have not even touched the subject of Weblogs. reports that IBM is encouraging its employees to blog with certain guidelines. So we have hundreds of more voices. We approach my concept of 6 billion speakers. And somehow I worry about the results. Although I denied it at first, I do believe that our media choices can have profound effects on the ways in which our brains are wired.

As an attention theorist, I know that novelty is important to the brain. But it seems this multimedia barrage is turning us into novelty junkies. I mean, I thought I was bored a lot of the time at 18. I cannot imagine being 18 today and being stuck in some situation where I was cut off from broadband for a few days.

A mailing list to which I belong, Tomorrow's Professor, sent this excerpt from a book today:
"He sits at the computer with headphones piping music from an iPOD to his ears. Ten different MSN chat windows blink and chime on the computer screen. An online role-playing game is minimized on the Windows taskbar. A music video blares from a TV in a corner of the room. A calculus book lies nonchalantly open by the cell phone, which itself sits next to the PC. He is doing his homework. He is real. He is a 21st Century Learner." The quotation is by
Michael Rodgers and David Starrett of Southeast Missouri State University.

It may be real, but it probably is not better. There's just something about thinking -- in the way that Aristotle, Plato, and Einstein did it -- that seems as if it will be lost in this new sensory-overload world. I am not sure what to make of this, but I am not a new media optimist. Call me old if you will, but incessant communication must take a toll.


Blogger TBone8 said...

Trust me. Aristotle, Plato, and Einstein would have listened to MP3s, checked AIM away messages, and surfed Wikipedia while figuring out the meaning of life, given the technology.

12:14 AM  

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