Now where did I leave my Google?

Is this the fatally-flawed new iPad 3 tablet?

‘Too much internet use can damage teenagers’ brains‘ screams a headline in the Daily Mail.
How Googling can harm your memory’ announces the Daily Telegraph above a further, and entirely un-related, article headlined: ‘Fatal tablet dispensed in error‘, which as it happens, was nothing to do with accidently issuing a schoolchild with a faulty iPad, but just for a moment it made me wonder.

The Telegraph report is on some rather limited research data that suggests that the way we remember things may be starting to change. It’s interesting that they interpret ‘change’ as ‘damage’ and ‘harm’. What the researchers actually discovered was that people are making less effort to remember facts and more to recall where they will be able to find particular items of information when they actually need  them. We are thus apparently developing our ‘transactive’ brain abilities. And the researchers go on to suggest that as a result educators need to become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorisation.

Meanwhile the ever-dependable Mail goes a step further and provides a test to discover if you are already addicted to the web, with the sub-head ‘A terrible shame – It’s a wake-up call’. Apparently excessive internet use may be causing parts of teenagers’  brains to waste away, based on a study of 19 year-old students who spend between 8 to 13 hours a day, six days a week playing games online.

There’s no question that we do need to do more research to discover the ways in which the internet is disrupting the way we think and behave, and as a consequence changing the way we learn. There are some facts we do need to memorise, and it would be crazy to spend all day, every day living in a virtual world, but we have yet to work out which are the essential facts to remember, and when it’s best to be online or in the real world.

But to promote the idea that using computers is damaging our brains  makes it more difficult for teachers and parents to swallow the pill and accept that IT and learning are a positive development. Until then, we are just going to need to keep taking the tablets ourselves.

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