Suzanne Fields

Health care reform blah blah blah. Underwear bomber blah blah blah. Immigration reform blah blah blah.

Where you read this column and other commentaries drawing on the news of the day may determine the kind of response you have to the blah blah blahs. Whether you agree or disagree with facts and opinions, what kind of questions you have about content, or whether you simply revel in the sheer pleasure of reading a nicely parsed argument, your reaction is not necessarily determined by subject matter so much as how you get it, on paper or a computer screen.

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Here at the intersection of politics and culture lies a new scientific puzzle about the way the brain responds to information. It's at the heart of the question asked of more than 100 writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, engineers and journalists by the intellectual online salon called Edge.org.

Every year, Edge.org poses a provocative question that considers the impact of computer chips, digitized information, virtual reality or whatever else has entered the collective high-tech electronic ecosystem for the delivery of information. The 2010 question is: How is the Internet changing the way you think?

This segues into the latest scientific speculation that the Internet may be changing our cognitive and emotional processing of information. I've even read where kids who are diagnosed with hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Disorder may now be viewed as developing a positive evolutionary ability for multitasking in a high-tech age.

The answers to the Edgy question, no surprise, run the table from Alpha to Zeta and well beyond the speed of the printing press. Some of the scientific cognoscenti think we're smarter and more creative; others say we're dumber, and lazier, afflicted with shortened attention spans. Information is merely spread over a broader space under a thin coating of data. Hence, we wade deeper into the shallows.

The media and the blogosphere are still reacting defensively to a widely circulated article in the Atlantic magazine in 2008 with the title, "Is Google making us stupid?" In it, writer Nicholas Carr compares his brain to that of Hal, the computer come to life in Stanley Kubrick's movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey." He specifically refers to the scene when astronaut Dave Bowman coldly disconnects the memory circuits of the artificial "brain," and Hal cries out, "Dave, my mind is going, I can feel it."


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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