Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Poll 70 - Are Tangents Bad?

Poll 70
Poll 70: "New research suggests that the Internet is rewiring our brains to make us jump from topic to topic, not learning deeply about any one idea. Does reading a book allow you to commit concepts to long-term memory more easily than web pages full of hyperlinks?" Poll ended August 22 2010. 61.8% agreed, while 38.2% did not.

Back in early 2008 I published a blog entry called Visualizations, which discussed various approaches to picturing underlying patterns. At that time I had just come across an interesting site called Webpages as Graphs that lets you see how a certain website is connected: just enter any URL and watch what happens. Click on this link if you'd like to see a real-time animation demonstrating how this Imagining the Tenth Dimension blog is currently linked... it's fun to watch the program evolve the image as it searches out all the internal hyperlinks, and to compare the patterns of connectedness from one website to another. For the Tenth Dimension Blog you'll eventually end up with a picture that looks somewhat like this:Coming across the study this poll is referring to, then, did rock my world a little bit. I have spent the four years since this project launched building an online web of connected links that allow people to wander from one idea to another, and see how ideas that many have thought to be completely unrelated could have deeper connections. The same is true with my YouTube channel - with about 350 videos posted now, a great many of them include on-screen buttons linking to other videos, which some people find very useful, and a few people say they find to be distracting.

Similar studies have shown that people trying to work with noise around them are less likely to be productive, and that includes people who listen to music while they work. A great many people swear that listening to music helps them focus, but these studies appear to contradict that notion.

Is the internet causing us to be more superficial? With facebook groups and twitter feeds, people see an interesting headline and forward the link on to their friends and associates. How many people actually read the story, and how many just glean what the story is probably about from the headline and quickly move on to the next headline, the next tweet, the next posting to their wall?

This is a tricky one. More connectedness, to my way of thinking, has to be a good thing, an important part of our mutual growth as a species. But clearly there are opposing patterns here of which we also need to be aware.

Next - Polls 71-73 - More Tangential Thinking

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