A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

The Wired Mind: How the Internet Is Changing You

At one point in my life, I considered myself to be an avid reader. Over the years, I have noticed that my reading habits have changed — my literature agenda includes only required assignments and the occasional pleasure novel or "must read" (Malcolm Gladwell, Levitt and Dubner, unread classics). I attributed most of this to a decline in free time, increased commitments and responsibilities, and you know, being a college student. After reading Nicholas Carr's article for the Atlantic on how the internet is not only changing the way we gather information, but probably changing the actual way our minds work, I was forced to explore the possibility that Google is at least partially to blame for my decreased appetite for literature.

In summary of his article (the very streamlining trend of the internet he describes), he compares the pre-internet methods of information gathering to the way information is sought after today. What used to take hours, maybe even days of research in the stacks of libraries is now readily available in a few clicks and keystrokes in the comfort of your office, home, or pocket. Carr goes on in his examination of this phenomena through a variety of different lenses; the psychology of mental development, an ominous comparison to Stanley Kubrick's unearthly futurist masterpiece, and philosophical points to ponder from both past and present.

As Carr touches upon, this is not the first time an exponential shift in access to information has occurred. Johann Gutenburg and his infamous press changed the history books — and for the first time, enabled the mass production of such texts. During this period in history, a shift from oral learning to a more textual style of information seeking occurred. There just weren't developmental and cognitive psychologists there to document it.

I am certainly no futurist (nor do I want to be haunted by the nightmares of my own imagination), but I do know that I embrace evolution of the collective human ability; as a result I tend to embrace technology readily. It comes as no surprise to me that in an age of pop-up advertisements, instant messaging, twitter, and wikis, my mental processes have probably been altered to accommodate for a different style of data exposure. One can call these "advantages" or "disadvantages", but I see it more as just plain differences.

What these differences will amount to in years, even generations from now is not incontestable, nor is it an easy task to judge them with a viewpoint only history can reveal. While there may be a decreasing number of Tolstoy scholars in years to come, I simultaneously ponder how many lives biotechnology will have saved, or how advances in quantum computing will have shaped the course of mankind.

To answer Carr's fundamental question: No. Google is making us different. What do you think? Is the decreased attention span and the shift away from long works of prose really a threat to human intellect? When does the streamlining of data gathering efficiency threaten individuality?

P.S. – Less pretentious posts to come. I promise .

Unique Online Charities

One of the most useful (though sadly, often forgotten) aspects of the Internet is the ability to contact with people all over the world, in real-time.  Just this month, I have exchanged email with a friend overseas, bought a Father's Day gift, and done research through an Australian library.  The Internet has greatly increased our ability to do personal things, but it has also increased our ability to give to others.

The best part about online charities is that you can feel secure knowing that you can receive up-to-date information about where your money is headed.  A friend of mine proudly displays email in his office, written to him by a child in Africa to whom he donated a laptop.  This sort of real-time exchange is what makes charity a viable option for busy web browsers.  While there are many (many!) worthy charities, I decided to highlight three very unique ones that are fledging, worthy of attention, and in need of support. (more…)

Help Needed with 2008 Newspaper Website Study

In 2006 and 2007, we performed studies that examined how U.S. newspapers are adapting their web programs in the face of an increasingly competitive online news market. These studies looked at the features of the top 100 newspaper websites in an effort to gauge what areas they are investing resources and what areas they are not, and compare how things are changing from year to year. We are about to begin our 2008 study and would like your input as to the features we should look for. Here is what we have come up with so far:

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30 Seconds of Metrics

Advertising in television commercials has been met with some fierce changes in recent years.  With the invention of the DVR system, it seems that more viewers are ‘fast-forwarding' the commercials in favor of watching their program in less time, with less interruptions.

Obviously, there are ways to use DVR systems to measure what commercials and specific parts of programs the audience is most watching (as was mentioned in my American Idol analysis), but this blog post offers an interesting notion that perhaps we are measuring the wrong metric.

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Gadget Floppery in My Lifetime

Inspired by a recent article at Wired Online, which detailed the lamest gadget ideas from the mid-1990s, I decided to make a list of five of the biggest flops in gadgetry during my lifetime.  In addition, the list shows some enlightening reasons as to why each of the products did not ever hit the consumer jackpot. (more…)