The Sciences

The Benefits and Costs of a Technology: Sheril’s Very Serious Point About Twitter

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApr 14, 2009 5:43 PM

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Just hours ago, my coblogger did an awesome and spirited post about why she ain’t gonna tweet. Good for Sheril—and she asserts that it’s just a personal decision, which is totally fine. I have made the same personal decision, at least until further notice. But Sheril also pointed out some “problems” with the technology in her original post—or rather, problems with what it may cause us to become. She linked a hilarious video underscoring a serious point, namely, that a technology like Twitter might, for some people, put their minds on speed…encouraging them to write faster and faster, and think less and less--becoming (drum roll) a distraction. Inevitably, there were many responses to Sheril's post saying, well, it’s just a new technology—not good or evil, just tech, so use it or don’t, and let others do as they please. E.g.:

Sean Carroll said: "I don’t see why anyone should complain about a technology that nobody is forcing them to use. If other people like it, what’s the big deal?" And Thingsbreak said: "It’s what you make of it, like all new tech. You’d think someone who gave a talk entitled “I am new media (And so can you!)” would be a little less quick to tell Twitter to get off her lawn."

Off her lawn? I can assure you, Sheril is no fogey. And hold on a minute: It’s certainly an individual choice, but that's not all it is. If everyone starts using a technology that changes his or her behavior, then society also changes. This change may be good, and it may be bad. But don’t tell me a cascade of individual choices doesn’t have bigger consequences. I’m no Luddite, and neither is Sheril. I don't think that the verdict on Twitter is yet in. But at the same time, I don’t think I’m the only one out there lately who sense that just maybe, not every aspect of how the Internet affects the media--or our thinking--is an improvement. In fact, there’s actually science on this: See “Rapid-fire media may confuse your moral compass,” EurekaAlert's breakdown of a recent study from USC neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. I can attest to one thing--I personally sense that my attention span today is not what it once was before blogs, Twitter, constant Google chats, my Iphone, etc. Does that mean I have stopped doing these things? Have I gone and pulled a Thoreau? No. But I'm pretty sure technologies have changed me significantly over the past decade. And with the benefits, there have perhaps also come some costs...and this is the deep point of Sheril's post.

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