Is the Internet making us Dumber? Is it making us Smarter? What will become of us in this Digital Age?

“Since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and with it movable type, those that have gone before us, afraid and suspicious of the potential of new forms of readily available media, have warned that the youth and future generations are at risk of becoming, for want of  better word, stupid.  And with the explosion of the realm, and possibilities of digital media, the attitudes of many today are no exception.  Yes, like the impact of the printed Bible, which saw the control of the masses by the Church, formerly the intellectual stronghold of Europe, falling as a result of the new-found accessibility to the written, or printed word, now too the public have the possibility of becoming ever-more empowered by the limitless information available to us, and therefore knowledge, at our fingertips.

While there is sufficient evidence to justify people’s suspicions of the internet, and its potential for our intellectual and moral demise, these feelings and concerns again are not new.  Like today, where the internet is awash with intellectual “junk-food”, such as “cat videos” and general mind-numbing silliness on  YouTube, many of the early printed works, which followed the first printed Bible, were viewed in much the same. In his article, “Does the Internet Make You Smarter”, suggests that during this period there was a ” flood of contemporary literature, most of it mediocre”, as well as “vulgar versions of the Bible and distracting secular writings”.

It is not just the nature of a great deal of the content found online which proves to be intellectually distracting.  One of the main reasons it is felt that the internet is to cause our imminent intellectual demise, is its ability to distract us, to break our concentration.  Nicholas Carr asked this question in his article “Is the Internet Making You Dumber?”.  He suggests that while the internet now allows us access to near unlimited information, it is affecting the manner in which we process and retain this information in a significant way.  In contrast to reading books, or at least a long sequence of interrupted pages ,which he claims, “helps us develop a rare kind of mental discipline”, the internet helps to undo this learned brain function of concentrated reading, with its multitude of distractions.  As the brain is naturally wired to being “aware of as much of what’s going on around us as possible”, reading, and concentration,  is in fact unnatural and learned behavior.   While it has been suggested that we are now reading more than ever before, it is the manner in which we are now reading which is significantly different.  We now read online articles,  or shorter, more condensed snippets of information, peppered with hyperlinks, leading us from page, to page resulting, often resulting to a string of half-read pieces, and in turn fragmented information.  These hyperlinks are not the full extent of these distractions, we are now inundated with its pop-up ads, email and Facebook notifications, not to mention the allure of the vast realms of intrigue available if opening a new tab, even for just a moment.  Nicholas Carr claims that this constantly breaking our concentration span is  forever altering our experiences, as our brains are increasingly “unable to forge the strong and expansive neural connections which give depth to our thinking”, which in turn affects among other things, our memories.  This, I feel, is the greatest shame.

In his article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, Nicholas Carr alerts us to the fact that he, like many of his peers, is finding his ability to read and concentrate while reading increasingly more difficult.  Like Carr, I too, at the “tender age” of 31, am finding lengthly readings and articles increasingly difficult to read.  My mind keeps drifting.  I think about a multitude of things and get increasingly distracted by potential new emails, treasures on ebay and the like.   Like Carr, I too was concerned that my memory was slipping away from me, but was relieved to discover that my decreased ability for concentration can be blamed on my time spent on the internet.  I often wondered how I managed the vast amount of reading as university, but then I hadn’t forms any relationship with the internet to speak of at that stage.  At that time, I had a much better ability to retain information, but now, like many of those around me, a part of me, I am ashamed to say,  feels that I have Google for that.  How many times does it happen that you might have a querie, want the answer for something important, or obscure, and now have the answer to almost any question, the solution to almost any problem, at the typing of a phrase in a search bar.  Would I have been more likely to have remembered the answer in future, if I was to have gone to the trouble to have searched in a book, taken time to actively have been involved in looking in books to the to find such answers?  Quite possibly.  And all this is of course accelerated due to our increased accessibility to the internet via our mobile phones and smartphones.

But back to Clay Shirkey, who feels that the possibilities for social and intellectual improvement on a global scale are within reach, due to our new-found relationship with the internet.  Like the evolution of new literate forms, among them academic, or scientific journals, which emerged as a result of the printing press, and were to increase the “intellectual range and output of society”, the internet itself has such possibilities.  During this period science was felt to be a collaborative effort, with discoveries and developments being built upon the work of others, and with it the notion of peer review, due to the fairly accessible means of the printed text.  Never before have we been able to forge and maintain connections with others, to transfer information, as we are able to now.  Shirkey also suggests that, the amount of time that the internet’s capabilities have saved us on a global level, should allow us the luxury of time to spend to be creative in an online sense.  It is this which Shirkey describes as “cognitative surplus”, which, to society’s great shame, is spent on one largely passive activity, namely watching television.  We are passively consuming rather than actively creating.  He suggests that we look at the idea of Wikipedia, which illustrates the possibilities of what makes collaborative creation so exciting.

But while we have the potential to use our cognitive surplus to great value, the reality is that many people globally are actively creating at a ferocious pace, but with little means in place to moderate the quality of these “creations” our standards are increasingly at risk.  In the realm of the Web 2.0, where user-generated content is key, and the role of the photographer, the journalist, filmmaker, food critic the list goes on and on, is available to everybody with internet access, people are generally empowered by the fact that they too can express themselves creatively, and have access to an audience, which before had been only the luxury of “the professional”.  But is this mass creation of largely average at best, better than passively consuming?  Shirkey says “yes”.  From my own perspective, I have to agree.  I do enjoy the idea of having a blog, where I can write and share my thoughts and things of interest.  Like those who create the endless sea of videos of dancing babies, or piano playing cats, I too have a platform to express myself, which I feel is a positive.  And there still is a hefty amount of high-brow literature and the like available to those to whom that is of interest.  Does that mean that the standards of the generations to follow will be lowered?  Possibly, but might that not be the responsibility of educators and parents to monitor and compensate for, as need be.

So, does the internet make us smarter, or more stupid?  Surely it could be seen to do both?  Is it not perhaps a shift from one type of brain function to another?  With technology developing at an increasingly rapid pace, and as a result the way in which we live our lives and digest content, from popular music to Twitterature, speeding up as well, perhaps our need for deep thought and the retention of information is something that in the future will be less important?  As the Sergy Brin and Larry Page have been known to have said that their goal for Google is to create the ultimate search engine, which is “something that is as smart as people – or smarter”.  Perhaps Google will become our “external memory, which will allow us time for other activities?  Personally, I can see how the internet and digital media has affected my attention span, and do feel that it is a problem which needs to be addressed.  At the same time I feel that my near instant ability to clear confusion or to find solution to a problem, with a quick Google search has become indispensable to me.  I have always considered myself a digital pessimist, having a hankering for the old, more traditional forms of media, but especially over the last few months doing this course, my increased ability to make use of the endless creative possibilities, as well as the access to information, of this new media has in many ways been inspiring to me.  Perhaps  it is our personal responsibility to be aware of the negative implications and to keep an eye on future generations and their relationships with technology, to instruct them and remind them of former cultural greats so that standards are maintained, while still be open to the new and exciting content now being created online?  Are we becoming more stupid, or are we just now more easily and publicly revealing our inherent stupidity, which is why, almost all of us love to watch cat videos.




What is Twitterature?

“Classic Literature in twenty tweets or less that recreates classic literature in a micro-novel format. ” 

I loved the sound of Twitterature when I first heard of it.  To sum up great works of literature in 20 tweets or less, what a fantastic idea.  Not only is it a great way to re-visit the classics, to get a modern spin on it, or to have a good laugh at the witty way in which these works are presented, but also to introduce a younger audience to literature, by giving a quick synopsis hints in colloquial and more accessible language in a modern, digital way.



Gonna try to talk some sense into Mom because boyfriend totally killed Dad. I sense this is the moment of truth, the moment of candour and –


Great Expectations

@piMp The walk was a bad idea. I met a prisoner who demanded bread and a file. He looks like a pederast. And a murderer. Amber alert? 

Alice in Wonderland

@AliceInTheSkyWithDiamonds Is it OK to drink from a mysterious bottle that’s been opened? What if there are Ruffies in it?

Marian Bantjes – Graphic Designer.

Marian Bantjes – Graphic Designer.

I came across this film while looking up training videos on my new friend  Not only does Lynda have a wealth of tutorials on anything from Photoshop to Twitter, it also has the odd documentary, such as this one that I found on famed graphic designer, Marian Banjes.  This was the first time that I had heard of her and her beautiful design work.  I really enjoyed this truly insightful film, which showed us Marian’s highly original and intricate design, as well as her hand-crafted and decorative lettering/typefaces.   I also enjoyed seeing designers that we have come to know as a result of our VisCom course, and familiar faces from the film Helvetica, namely Michael Beirut and Paula Scher.





Retro Advertising Posters With a Difference.

Retro Advertising Posters With a Difference.

After my retro poster design presentation yesterday I felt that this would be a very fitting Digital Media post.  When I came across these while doing research yesterday I felt that I had to post them.  Would Facebook have appealed to me more if I had first seen an ad like this?  Sad as it amy sound, the answer is probably “Yes”.  I know that they may seem a little twee, but I liked them nonetheless.







Then & Now.

Then & Now.

Meeting with last year’s MScDM students yesterday, while a little scary when considering  the sheer magnitude of the final research project which lies ahead, was really inspiring and exciting.  I loved the attention to detail in the design of their site, the Easter 1916 logo in particular, and was driven by the notion that determination is often rewarded in a situation such as this.  I also loved the use of original archive photographs and the idea of the “then and now” photographs, matching old photographs of 1916 Dublin to those same locations today.  This morning, while mooching around the internet, I came across the gorgeous blog of South African blogger “Miss Moss” and her post about a vintage photo collector, Giuseppe Savini.  I would so encourage you to have a look at it.  Savini photographs his old collected images in the location today, matching them up with the building or landmark in front of which they were taken.  They made me laugh as they were so very clever.  A great idea.  Wish I had thought of it.


Last week I discovered the 4OD app, which I downloaded onto my beloved iPhone.  And last week I fell in love with this video on demand service from Channel 4, offering a variety of recent programmes from Channel 4, E4 and More 4, as well as past programmes from their extensive archives.  Why is this player more superior than the RTE player, the Sky player or the BBC iPlayer you  might ask?  Its fantastic documentary section, of course.  Channel 4 is renowned for the high quality of its documentary film content, and so often I would have seen these fantastic films advertised, but for some reason would not be at home to enjoy them, and no I do not have sky +, so they would be lost to me forever.  Or so I thought.

As is fairly obvious from this blog, I am a bit of a “documentary junkie”, and will soon have exhausted the GCD library’s supply.  Just my luck I thought when I uncovered the wealth of documentaries that I can now access from my phone anywhere that has wifi.  With all the discussions we’ve had about digital media technology and the way in which it is affecting the way that we live, here I have found another.  Yes, I have been known to watch the odd film on my laptop on the sofa or in bed, and have watched the occasional YouTube video on my phone too, but mostly if I was to watch a full length documentary film, it would involve popping a DVD into the player, watching it on the telly, me on the sofa and in some ways it would be an event, something that I had planned to do.   This, I fear, is about to change, especially during these cold winter months.

Like FFFound, the 4OD player can be a very dangerous thing, which I discovered during the early days of our relationship.  While it has not been a tool which helpings to distract from my studies, such as browsing eBay for art deco/bauhaus/mid-century modern artifacts, or checking my mail, or Twitter account, it has however struck in a potentially even more damaging way… Last week I learned the hard way, that having the 4OD player on my iPhone is dangerous in that it is a very easy way to spend your last waking moments of the day, lying snugly in your bed, earphones in.  “Just the first ten minutes” of a programme, is a nice idea, but very difficult to enforce when you’re absorbed in what you’re watching.  The hours of sleep needed for the following day, becoming less and less important.  There are some fairly short docs on this site, but many full-feature length films too.  So, beware!  If you’re like me and love a good documentary stay away… At least until the holidays.


The Worst Album Covers Ever Created.

The Worst Album Covers Ever Created.

Here are some more design gems that I felt I needed to share.  When I first saw these crazy album covers I laughed my head off.  Calling them “The Worst Album Covers Ever Created”, really was no exaggeration.  To be honest, I have never heard of any of these artists.  At first, I was unsure as to whether these were just fictional/joke bands, and was convinced it was all just a wind-up.  Now, I know that Wikipedia is not always a reliable source, and the fact that I was able to do a Google search, which provided me with results, is not necessarily proof enough, but if someone went to all that trouble, the fair play to them.  I have included some examples.  Some are badly designed and dated, some are weird and others, well you can see for yourself.  Sorry about the rude ones, but one has to wonder what the designers were thinking, especially since we all now all the more aware of the power that the image has in conveying a message.  I can understand being subversive to get a reaction, but are these controversial, or just plain gross?  You decide. If you have some free time visit , to see the rest.