We’ve all heard conflicting evidence on what the Internet does to our brains. From Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows (take a guess on his opinion) to Gary Small’s research about increased brain function in us older adults, you might wonder if your proclivity to verify every thought with Wikipedia makes you smarter or more stupid.
I’m old enough to remember my parents’ doomsday predictions about TV. Dad made me select my two hours of programming each week from a TV Guide and then sign a TV contract. My parents’ complaints about my teenage yapping on the telephone might resonate with some of you who now wish your kids would talk versus text. As a twenty-something, I even worked for Osborne Computer Corporation, whose founder had the pomposity to envision a personal computer on every desk (which Steve Jobs, IBM and Bill Gates actually brought to fruition).
My take: technology does change our brains (so does your every thought, experience and action, BTW). The positive or negative outcome relies mostly in application.
In my life, Google often provides that extra piece of confidence to let me speak out in a household where I am assumed slightly smarter than Ginger, our neurotic cat. I have two teens; need I say more? My husband Ken, a nationally ranked debater in high school, has honed his ability to prove a point through a pedigreed education and 23 years of deal making. He states his beliefs with such confidence that oftentimes I doubt facts of which I’m certain. I often suspected the love of my life might follow the description “often wrong, but never in doubt,” but now I carry my IPad to every meal. Meaning of that word? Hah! Now I can check. Timeframe of that event? Now know for sure. Unfortunately the guy is still mostly right. At least I can now argue more effectively with my children.
As Ken and I chatted over our electronic news this morning. I realized that although our conversations might be slightly more accurate, we’ve lost something. Our exchanges lack the “what if” brain wanderlust that bonds individuals on a common adventure of imagination. We end up “right,” but not there. We exchange facts, but don’t listen.
Perhaps this contrast hit me harder because I’d just been completely unplugged for about four days. I went on a campout adventure to the Truchas Lakes with my good friend Amy Wolfe.
We walked for 11 hours one day, reigniting a friendship that life had stretched thin through all the busyness life brings. The long spans of silence on that walk allowed us to ask questions of each other we don’t normally have the time or courage to ask.
We faced challenges without the aid of Google – a torrential downpour, a lost trail, a misinterpreted map, threat of lightning and aching feet. We guessed, adjusted, were wrong and corrected. My brain felt tested, but alive.
At one point I picked up a rock splattered with deep red mineral content (which my daughter now tells me is caused by iron — she saw this on the History Channel). Amy and I saw so many red flecked rocks on the trip I wondered out loud if the Sangre de Cristo Range got its name from this geological phenomena. Amy listened, nodded with a smile.
Plugged in at breakfast this morning, I couldn’t resist. I googled the Sangre de Cristo name, only to find the name hails from a Padre Francisco Torres who murmured “Sangre de Cristo” as he lay dying while the sun set red over a snowy mountain range. Somehow, that fact didn’t make me regret leaving my IPad at home while on my hike.
Being right in our culture often outweighs the importance of being present. Of being tolerant. Of being human. Our deviation from the correct sometimes writes a fiction that is closer to the truth than facts can ever hope to convey.
Does this mean I’m unplugged for life? No way. I’m an electronics geek. Don’t expect me to toss my toys because of this new revelation.
My next meal, however, I’ll leave my IPad charging in another room.
Find out more about Julie K. Hersh or Struck by Living on her website www.struckbyliving.com.