Bootcamp Day 11: Web Design and Our Brains

I do not see myself becoming a web designer any time soon. That said I thoroughly enjoyed today’s class.

Today, David Johnson, came to initiate us into the world of web design. Johnson will also be one of two professors supervising our work through the year in putting together The American Observer, the online grad publication at AU.

In our discussion of web design this morning, Johnson asserted that Google, and its results pages, have taught us how to read online. That’s pretty profound if you think about it: this website has changed part of our brain’s architecture, it’s rewired how we seek out information in a given environment, it’s changed how we see.

Thinking about this reminded me of a book I’d like to check out by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows, What The Internet is Doing To Our Brains. You can see some of his thinking on this in a 2008 Atlantic Monthly article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (Don’t you love question headlines?), and another piece at Wired.

Now, I have never been one to jump on the “technology makes us stupid” bandwagon, and I recommend to everyone that they read Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good For You, which focuses more widely on pop culture, but certainly addresses technological issues, and avoids the “we’re becoming vegetables” theme.

In a nutshell, Carr claims that the internet is changing the very ways in which we think, how we process information, how we read. Basically, it makes it harder for us to read long pieces of text and therefore to really contemplate what we read.

You can see Carr’s interview on Colbert Nation here, and at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco here (I particularly like the bit at the end about how our brain circuits “dissolve”).

Food for thought for those entering the journalism profession as we learn about how almost no one will read our work in it’s entirety. Sigh.

Oh, and on a lighter note, we examined how all media outlets have a vested financial interest in society-wide division, chaos, disruption and controversy. Wheeeeeee!

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