Bedsole- Blog Post #1

Emily Bedsole- Blog Post #1

As Nicholas Carr and the Huffington Post point out in their respective articles, the brain’s ability to rewire itself regardless of age is an intriguing concept that is increasingly interconnected with today’s technology. “Brain plasticity,” as the concept is called, concerns how prolonged environmental or behavioral changes can cause the brain to function differently. Both authors concur that the proliferation of the Internet and digital media is rapidly altering how we consume and process information, and believe that our Internet habits are, in effect, shorting the way we perceive the world around us. Specifically, Huffington Post points out that frequent Internet use may lead to decreased memory capacity (“Fact #4,” Huffington Post). One example of Internet technology that supports decreased memory capacity is GPS technology such Google Maps, Apple Maps, and Garmin.

GPS is a popular tool utilized by those of us in the world who consider ourselves to be directionally challenged. I personally rely on the Google Maps iPhone app to get me from Point A to Point B on a regular basis. Relying on a smart phone screen propped up on the dashboard to give step-by-step directions removes the need for GPS users to consult a printed map, plan out a road path for themselves, or even look at road signs while travelling. Accordingly, GPS devices illustrate Huffington Post’s concern about decreased memory capacity due to frequent Internet use because they completely eliminate the need for people to think about how to get to their destination for themselves.

As a result, users do not learn how to get to their destination, but rather blindly follow a series of commands that they forget, one by one, until they hear the magic words, “You have arrived at your destination.” The routine lack of navigational awareness required to use GPS devices prevents consumers from having to commit directions to permanent memory as well as creates a disconnect between the mental and physical capacities needed to drive a car to a certain place. It also causes users to continue to rely on GPS devices even more, which profits the technology companies that produce them. This expands upon Carr’s intellectual inability to concentrate on long readings after using the Internet for a number of years because it suggests that people may be losing their ability to concentrate not only while reading, but also while completing much less cerebral tasks like driving.

Using GPS devices time after time decreases the brain’s need to retain direction-seeking skills. Eventually, the brain may display brain plasticity by losing the ability to synthesize the complex details of maps and how to automatically retain an extended mental perception of how different roads in a given area connect to one another. As the continued success of GPS devices indicates that the technology will continue to be a popular navigation tool, it is necessary to consider how substituting the learning of information permanently with instantly available, temporary solutions will affect brain plasticity in the long run.

About Emily Bedsole

Political Science
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1 Response to Bedsole- Blog Post #1

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Emily,

    I really enjoyed reading your post! When considering the technology from which I regularly consume information, I had completely ignored my reliance on Google Maps. As a visual learner, physical landmarks rather than street names have always served as my directional guides; however, in recent years I have found myself increasingly reaching for the GPS when navigating to new locations.

    In reading your post, I was particularly struck by your observation that this habit may indicate a decline in our abilities to concentrate on even “mindless” tasks like driving. The navigator’s robotic voice and my phone’s glowing screen become blinders, blocking me from taking in the world outside my window in a connective way. Landmarks fly by unnoticed while I await the app’s next command, always ready for more stimulation. And the prominent presence of my phone in the car, stuck onto my windshield, places a world of even more stimulation right within reach, filling drives once dominated by thoughtful quiet with music and phone calls.

    Maybe the next time that I find myself in the driver’s seat I will stow away my phone and enjoy the silence!

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