Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pinker defends electronica

Steven Pinker just wrote a great defense of electronic communication. The highlight for me:

For a reality check today, take the state of science, which demands high levels of brainwork and is measured by clear benchmarks of discovery. These days scientists are never far from their e-mail, rarely touch paper and cannot lecture without PowerPoint. If electronic media were hazardous to intelligence, the quality of science would be plummeting. Yet discoveries are multiplying like fruit flies, and progress is dizzying.

The same can be said for software engineering. Email and instant messaging give huge productivity increases. In a nutshell, they help people work together.

On the other hand, I don't agree with this part:

The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

I believe that what you spend your time mentally consuming strongly affects how you think about things and how you come at new things you encounter. However, we shouldn't blame the media, but the content. Watching Bruno and watching the Matrix get a person thinking about entirely different things, but they come through the same medium. Likewise, reading Fail Blog and reading Metamodern put the mind in entirely different places, even though they're both blogs.

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