The Modify?


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Are you being modified?


modifyThe Modify App

Somewhere near Reading, England, there's a young girl walking around with the idea in her head that something called 'a modify' exits. She thinks 'a modify' is a software App that can be used to stop virus attacks on computers. 

This misunderstanding derives from hearing her teacher telling the class that viruses can modify a computer's operating system. At some point, whilst the teacher was attempting to enlighten his class, we can only suppose the girl's attention wandered off somewhere - never to return, perhaps, even now, she's busy scanning the App Store in search of the elusive Modify.

And why not? They say that penetrative insights may arise from misunderstanding, perhaps our young friend is on to something but maybe she's looking in the wrong place. Perhaps the Modify App is actually the Internet itself, for there are serious concerns that the Internet is having a transformative effect on human cognition.

Cognition and Reality

Cognition covers a host of mental processes that handle information processing. The effectiveness with which we process data from the environment determines the people we are as we interact with that constantly changing environment. Put more simply, as things change, we change, whether we know it or not. In a sense we become modified by our environment.

A fact of life, one for long resisted by the scientific community, is that objectivity is impossible. When quantum physicists claim to capture an illusive neutrino they will not be able to show you the little blighter, only the product of its interaction with other particles. Then they will write up the details on a very large blackboard, to impress the people who award Nobel Prizes. The reason the physicist resorts to a blackboard full of equations is because it is the only place his assertions can be kept cosy and safe from people who demand to see the neutrino.

Shallow Reading?

In 2008, technology writer Nicholas G. Carr wrote an essay which was highly critical of the Internet's effect on cognition. Specifically, he focused on his own loss of concentration and reflection while reading. He claimed that his increasing use of the Internet to skim and scan text had altered his reading behaviour.

Carr was unable to point to any neurological and psychological studies to back up his suspicion that his own neural circuitry was being altered by, what he calls, shallow reading on the Internet. 

Carr asked the question Is Google Making Us Stupid and the answer he arrived at is it might be since there are suggestions the plasticity of the brain lends itself to the influence of intellectual technologies, i.e. those that are supposed to extend our intellectual capacity like computers. 

The medium is the message

“For the “content” of a medium is like a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watch-dog of the mind”

Meaning that the medium is more important than the message because it may change us more than any message it conveys. 

The quote above is from Marshall McLuhan who set out his ideas on how changing technology changed society in his 1964 work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. 

In Understanding Media, McLuhan describes the "content" of a medium as a juicy piece of meat distracting the watchdog of the mind. People tend to focus on the obvious, the content, it provides us with valuable information but in the process we largely miss the changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, over time. 

McLuhan says: 

"As society's values, norms and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions that we are not aware of."

One can only marvel at the things McLuhan says but there surely must be easier ways of explaining what you mean. He appears to saying that it is only when the changes introduced by different technologies become profound, embedded, that we become aware of their implications, i.e. after our behaviour has been modified by them.


The Interesting Question

How do you feel about being modified by an App?





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