Saturday, February 14, 2009

No Brainer - Week In Westminster - Baroness Greenfield

The House of Lords has been discussing childhood this week, including talk about Social Networks. I just heard some comments on Radio 4's The Week in Westminster from Baroness Greenfield that I had to write into them about .
The piece is here - at 16mins 30 secs


Subject:  No Brainer - Week In Westminster Feb 14th - Comments by Baroness Greenfield

Date:  14 February 2009 12:28:41 GMT


Dear Feedback,


I followed Baroness Greenfield's concerns about the possibility of Social networks having a detrimental effect on the brain with interest.

She was candid about the current lack of evidence but she nevertheless offered a theory based on what I thought were weak assumptions: that time spent online was largely visual and therefore involved less abstract thought - and also that this was because words "don't work very well" on screen.


What she seems to have done is taken a small grain of truth - that text can be more comfortably read on paper - and ignored the explosion of discussion, comment, humour, criticism and reflection that online culture and online communities have brought about. ( All online activities, by the way conducted largely using the written word.)


Her description of an internet user's experience as '"Yuk, Wow" and click to change to something else' is not only crude but it is surely more appropriate to describe television viewers.


A more accurate example of current online activity, say someone seeing a video link on Facebook, involves mental activities such as: " Evaluating it's relevance, choosing and watching while continuing to evaluate it's value, reflecting, commenting, summarising to a colleague and discussing further" even if this may come down in some cases to arguing the merits of The Pussycat Doll's hair length, it is surely good news for abstract thought - and ultimately the health of the brain. 


I am in the business of developing online entertainment that is worthy of this complex, sociable, vocal and critical group of people - it would be a brainless job indeed if this audience were as lobotomised as Baroness Greenfield suggests.





Matthew Burton McFaul


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