How You Know When Your Gizmo Has Rewired Your Brain

Another excerpt from the anals of “The Medium Is The Message:

One of the fundamental precepts Marshal McLuhan proposed is the notion that our thought our processes evolve to conform with the architecture of whatever media we’re using. “Re-wiring the brain” is how McLuhan put it. I see evidence of that principal whenever I use my iPad.

A friend of mine recently got his first iPad, and said he’s having a blast with it. I told him to be careful, his attention span is about to be reduced to nil.

Yes, it’s the chair, stupid…

What makes the tablet different from all the digital devices that preceded it is not what it can do, but how we use it. Sitting in a chair like we would with a book (or propped up on the breakfast table, instead of trying to fold a newspaper so that it will stand up in front of us…). But this is a “book-like device” has the entire history of human knowledge “built in” to it – and countless other distractions. The ability to jump from one thing to another – you can’t do that with a book, but you can do it with an iPad, which you sit with and hold more or less like a book.

So the first casualty is your attention span. You’ll be reading an article about somebody, you wonder what they look like, so you tap a couple of times to open your browser, you go to Google and search images. One of the images juxtaposes with something else and you follow that link… which leads to something else which leads to something else – and five minutes later you’re back to article you were reading. Unless you had the impulse to check your e-mail or look at Facebook while you were at it, your mileage may vary.

We didn’t use to read that way… we used to just sit down and read for a while, and then get up and do something else. Now “something else” is always at our fingertips.

Despite its capacity for endless distractions, one feature of reading on a tablet is the ability to look up the definition of any word without leaving whatever you’re reading. Typically, you just highlight the word, press on it, and an option to “define” appears; select that option and presto, there’s the definition of the word. Pretty cool huh?

And fairly habit forming. It’s pretty easy to get comfortable pressing on a word to get its definition.

Of course, most of us will still use actual books from time to time.

But the first time you find your self starting to push your finger down on a word in an actual book… that’s when you’ll know your gizmo has rewired your brain.

(reposted to Facebook 130112 to test NextScripts)