I spent 5 glorious days unplugged from all electronic devices and totally free of any distractions…
Juxtapose this with email, television and cell phone distractions, replacing the times we used to have for contemplation, and our time is filled with some connective device or another.
Imagine the terror nowadays when one is left alone…unplugged!
Not long ago, I read that one of the growth areas of neuropsychology today, using the most advanced techniques of brain-mapping, is the study of how the Internet, cell phones and the like are transforming the way we think and the kind of persons we are becoming.
Other studies show that performance suffers when we are multitasking – as when we try to form coherent paragraphs and sustain a logical argument, while checking our emails every three minutes, or when we attempt to drive while talking on a cell phone.
University of Utah psychologist David Strayer, is convinced that attention, memory and learning ability are being dramatically affected with too much digital stimulation, and that such overstimulation ‘can take people who would be functioning okay and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy’.
That the medium in which we think changes the very nature of that thought would have been no surprise to persons like me – born before computers…BBC – and initially resistant but still inept at its functioning and utilizing only basic and survival functions. For that reason, some persons of my generation viewed the recording of oral tradition as a cosmic tragedy.
Interestingly the Greeks had the same fears. A character in Plato’s Socratic dialogue ‘Phaedrus’ worries that reliance on the written word will substitute for oral transmission, creating people who receive their ‘information without proper instruction…they will be thought very knowledgeable where they are for the most part quire ignorant;…the conceit of wisdom will replace real wisdom.’
Wise men of the past also knew that for knowledge to have any impact on the recipient he needs time, free from distractions, to absorb what he has learnt. The prophets from Moses, Jesus to Mohammed spent time alone in contemplation of the revelations passed onto them by God.
But the major point about the impact of digital overload is not that we may think less well or underperform on certain tasks, but that we are becoming different types of human beings altogether. We all still know plenty of smart people. What is much, much rarer are people possessing wisdom (Wise persons were always rarer than smart ones). And those who do possess wisdom do not make themselves constantly available to the world by carrying a cell phone with them everywhere, or who write with a pen, rather than at the computer, or who still spend their days with books and not at their laptops.
Our eagerness and ability to share the most mundane details of our lives with half-strangers via Facebook or Twitter seems inversely proportional to our possession of insights or thoughts worth sharing.
Rafique Gangat – Jerusalem – 3 October 2014