3 Ridiculous Maths about How Technology is Destroying Your Mind 三种谬论企图使你相信科技在摧毁人们的智商

By Greg Stevens, The Daily Dot from The Week, July 30, 2014


你是不是知道科技是一件很可怕的东西,而且把我们的脑子都摧毁了?这是真的。必定是这个样子的,不然的话人们不会不断地这么讲。在上个世纪的六十年代,电视(当时有人称它“笨蛋电视”)把我们头脑都变成了“巨大的未开垦之地”。进入八十年代,电子游戏是众所周知的罪魁祸首。而现在谷歌把我们都变成了笨蛋,而且那些社交网站,把真正人与人的关系都毁灭了。

现在,最近的头条新闻却告诉我们,“使人震惊的调研结果告诉我们为什么科技不能使人更聪明”。研究告诉我们,人们沉溺于智能手机所带来的虚无的激动;人们不愿安静地坐下来思考问题,却陶醉在这些电子设备的刺激中。 

但是这种故意使得人们人心惶惶的流言其实只是患妄想病者的幻想。这样的错误就与半个世纪前的错误想法一样。对科技的恐怖是由无端的推测,科幻故事,和无知所造成的,这样的错觉事实上是没有科学根据的。

如果在下一次的派对里,有人对科技唱挽歌、认为科技摧毁人类的智商的时候,你就可以击穿那常见的三种谎言,保护科技。

谬论1: 智能手机使人追求虚无的激动之中

我们先来看看这个论点的一个例子。在2014年七月四日的“科学”杂志上,所发表的一篇题为“冥想:让脑子完全不思考的挑战”的学术报告。在文章里描述了由 Timothy D Wilson 教授和他的同仁所对人类在安静的环境下冥思能力的调查。研究的基本结果显示人们在安静地坐下不可以做任何事情的时候,表现的很不自如。在这种状态下,人们宁可做一些不好的事情来对付一点事情也不能做。他们的整篇报告可以在网上查到。报告中列出了一系列的实验所得出的有力的结论,就是人们处于不准做任何事情,只可以冥想的时候,整个人是处在一个很坏的状态。其中一个实验是仅仅对大学生而进行的,而另外一个实验是对从十八岁的年轻人一直到七十七岁的老人进行测试的,然而测试的结果却是一样:人们不愿意处在无所事事的状态。最使人惊讶的一项测试是人们宁可选择用电刺激自己也不愿意单独一个人在一个安静的环境下苦思冥想。

那报告的作者并没有把他们的实验结果与手机连在一起。他们推测了很多人们不愿意无所事事地坐在那里的理由:当人们出于无所事事的状态的时候,可能会陷入不良的思考中或者堕入焦虑之中;他们也推测人们在没有得到任何指示应该怎样来做某些事的不安;他们甚至奇异地想象这是“动物”基本性质,尤其是哺乳类动物的共性,就是要与整个世界有联络。

即使有那么多种多样奇形怪状的猜测,但是他们至始至终都不觉得科技是造成这个困惑的缘由。事实上,他们特别指出,“没有任何证据证明人类的精神兴奋期与他们的年龄、教育程度、收入、甚至他们使用手机或者社会上的媒体的频繁程度有任何关系。”

美国的媒体对这篇文章有什么反应呢?美国全国公共广播电台说,“我们被数码设备不断地分心,但是我们无法停止下来去进行思考。”《今日秀》在报道这篇文章的时候,用一个很大的手机做装饰,边上写着,“要让我无所事事地冥思?哦,我的手机在哪里?”福布斯杂志在专栏版上这么说,“一份重要的研究告诉我们,为什么科技并不能使我们更聪明”,目的是想把责任都推着安卓和苹果的手机上现有的功能。那个作者指出这些科学数据并没有把科技与“静坐、冥想”的能力联系起来,尽管如此,这并不影响作者把这整篇文章作为反科技的一支标枪。他认为,“手机在年轻人和少年人中广泛的使用,可能对以后的孩子们造成严重的后果。”

我并不愿指责福布斯的文章,也不责怪其他那些以这些科研结论极力把智能手机描写成恶魔的文章。因为这是我们长久以来文化传统的一部分。我可以明确地告诉你,无论你走的哪一个小城镇,或者哪一个街角的商店,你都可以发现有一些苦恼的家长总是会把孩子们不喜欢学习的因素归罪于手机。

你要知道的是:所有这些责怪都是没有科学根据的。

谬论2: 社交网站摧毁了真正的人际关系

如果单单就以这一篇科研报告就来指责,那就不太好了。然而在科学杂志上的一篇文章就是最近的一个例子。我们可以回想一下,记得对脸谱,短信,及其他一些社交网站及其类似的荒谬指责,就是:摧毁了人与人之间的真正联络。

同样的,这里谬论之所以会不断地流传,只是根据想象、猜测,而不是依照科学统计的数据,从而把大众引入似是而非的问题之中,让人猜疑不定。(“当我们沉浸在社交网络里的时候,我们是不是不顾质量,却单求数量地寻找朋友?”)

然而,科学测定的数据是确实存在的。在2007年,就有一项对年龄在10到17岁之间的1210个学生的调查研究。彼得博士和富尔根波克博士研究这些数据,发觉那些上网与朋友交谈的学生比不上网交谈的学生有更多的好朋友,而且也对个人和社交方面感到更满意。 

2011年,Mariek Abeel 和 Keith Row 发觉,更多地使用短信、即时留言、和电子邮件与朋友联络,让人们对自己的社团更有归宿感,也对自己的朋友圈感到更亲近。在2012年,Adriana Manago 博士发觉那些在脸谱里有很多朋友的人,对如何达到生活上的满足、对社会支持的理解、并如何能使自己有安康的生活等方面都有深刻的经验。

你必须从正面的角度来解读这些调研的结果,当然也不可以有过分的评价。事实上,脸谱不会给你带来友谊,也不会使你更安乐。根据芝加哥大学认知和社会神经科学中心的主管John Cacippo,人们在社交网络里的经验仅仅是日常生活中与人打交道的经验的反映。生活中有丰富社会经验的人,就更会用社交网络上的经验来丰富他们的日常生活;而平时就很孤独的人,在社交网络上还是感到孤独的。

如果下一次有人对你说,社交网络正在摧毁真正的人际关系的时候 ,你就知道这样的说法也是没有根据的。 

谬论3: 谷歌摧毁了人们的记忆

最后,就是那个众所周知的谬论:谷歌把人都搞得很笨,因为我们都不需要记得任何东西了。Nicholas Carr 的那篇冗长的文章用广为传播的对科技恐怖的轶事文章,和一些荒唐的流传来描述人工智能将要控制人类等等的东西来作为题目。(他引用某一篇博客中的话,来告诉大家,因为万维网的缘故,人们已经再也没有精力来读“战争与和平”了。)

事实上,对于电脑如何对人类记忆的影响是非常复杂的。在2011年,三位研究人员,Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner, 和Jenny Liu共同对于提取网络中储存的资料(比如在谷歌中找资料)对人类记忆的影响,作了一些列的研究。他们发觉,当人们知道在网络上可以找到的资料,他们就不刻意地记住那些资料了。

但是,他们也发现当人们被告知那些储存在电脑里的信息的时候,人们对于那些资料储存在哪里和怎样从新取得这些资料的记忆,却有高度的记忆。他们的实验结果表示,不要说谷歌让人们的思想变得懒惰,而是让人们以另外一种方式方法来对记忆信息,就是记忆了到哪里去找信息,而不是简单地记住那个信息。

与那个“谷歌让我们变成笨蛋!”的谬论绝然相反的是,科学却显示,这种不直接记忆信息的方式表示了人类的脑子的更有效性。当你知道某些信息今后可以得到的话,人们就记载如何去得到,而不需要直接记住信息的内容。这样的方法就如一个采集苹果的人,一下子明白了,他不再需要把所有的苹果采下来,搬到家里,而只要知道苹果园在哪里就可以了。

***

我并不指望这些谬论在短期内会消失。人们对科技报以敌视的谬论已经有几百年了。但是你现在已经获得一些事实数据,所以如果下一次你看到一篇文章说新的科技将有损人类文明,或者其他什么样的无言乱语,你就知道这样言论是不一定可以信任的。


讨论问题:

 1.    在你读完这篇文章以后,你对这个题目有什么看法?

2.    对现在的科技,你有什么样的顾虑?

3.    你喜欢哪一些现代的科技?

Did you know that technology is terrible and is destroying our minds? It's true. It must be true, because people keep saying it. In the 1960's, television ("the boob tube") was the "vast wasteland" turning our brains into mush. In the 1980's, video games were the culprit du jour. More recently,Google has been making us stupid and social media is destroying our real-world relationships.

And now, a recent headline tells us that a "Shocking study shows why technology is not really making us smarter," reporting that smart phones have made us so addicted to mindless stimulation that we would rather give ourselves electric shocks than sit quietly and think deep thoughts.

But all of this fear-mongering is just paranoid fantasy. It is as ridiculous today as it was half a century ago. Myths about the terrors of technology are fed by speculation, anecdotal tales, and fear of the unknown, but they are not backed up by actual science.

To protect yourself the next time you are at a party where someone is bemoaning the terrors of technology, here are three myths about how tech is destroying your mind — and the facts that debunk them.

Myth 1: Smart phones have increased our need for mindless stimulation

Let's look at the aforementioned example first. On July 4, 2014, Science magazine published a research paper entitled "Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind." In this paper, Professor Timothy D. Wilson and his colleagues examined people's ability to sit quietly with their own thoughts. The overall results show that people are terrible at sitting and doing nothing — often preferring to do something negative over doing nothing at all.
The full text of the paper is available online (PDF). It outlines a series of experiments that show solid evidence that people are bad at sitting quietly with their own thoughts. One study only involves college students, another involves people aged 18 to 77, and the results are the same: People don't like doing nothing. The most titillating experiment shows that people even prefer to self-administer electric shocks rather than sit quietly with their own thoughts.

The authors do not relate this result to cell phone use. They speculate about many possible reasons people might not like sitting quietly: They suspect people may get bogged down in negative thoughts or anxieties; they speculate people might find it troubling when they are not given instructions about what to think about; they even theorize that it may be a simple "animal reaction" that we share with all mammals, a desire to be engaged in the world.

Not once do they speculate that technology could be to blame. In fact, they specifically say: "There was no evidence that enjoyment of the thinking period was related to participants' age, education, income, or the frequency with which they used smart phones or social media."

How was this reported in the media? NPR says "Surrounded by digital distractions, we can't even stop to think." Today.com decorates their article with a large graphic of a cell phone and the caption, "Alone with my thoughts? Um, where's my phone." The op-ed at Forbes (cited above), "Shocking study shows why technology is not really making us smarter," tries to place the blame entirely on the availability of Androids and iPhones.

The author acknowledges that the scientific data show no relationship between use of technology and the ability to "sit quietly," but this doesn't stop him from framing the entire article as an anti-technology hit-piece: "The use of mobile devices among younger and younger children may have serious unintended consequences for the ability of future generations."

I don't blame the author of the Forbes article, or any of the other pieces that so desperately tried to use this scientific study to demonize smart phones. It's part of a long-standing tradition in our culture. I'm sure that you can walk into any small town or corner store and find concerned parents who are absolutely certain that smart phones are to blame for the fact that their children hate studying.

You should remember, however, that there is no scientific evidence to back it up.


Myth 2: Social networks are destroying real friendships

It would be a mistake to pick on the reporting of this one scientific study alone, however. The Science article is only the most recent example. We can go back a little further and find another similar myth: that Facebook (along with texting and other social media) is destroying friendship.

Once again, articles that perpetuate this myth rely on speculation and leading rhetorical questions ("By immersing ourselves in social media, are we choosing the quantity of friends over the quality?") without actually looking at scientific data.

But the data does exist. In a study conducted in 2007, Drs. Peter and Valkenburg looked at 1210 students between the ages of 10 and 17, and found that those students who used online communication to talk with their friends had closer friendships and felt more personal and social satisfaction than students who did not.

In 2011, Mariek Abeele and Keith Row found that texting, instant messaging, and emailing more frequently with friends was associated with a higher sense of belonging and a stronger overall social network. In 2012, Dr. Adriana Manago found that students who had more Facebook friends experienced higher levels of life satisfaction, perceived social support, and overall well-being.

You should be cautious about over-interpreting these results in the opposite direction, of course: Facebook doesn't actually create friendships and well-being. According to John Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, people's experience with social media merely reflects their experience with the real-world friends. People with strong offline social lives tend to use social media to enrich their social lives even further, while people who experience loneliness online were usually lonely to begin with.

So the next time someone tells you that social media is destroying our ability to have "real world friendships," remember that, once again, there's no actual proof of


Myth 3: Google is destroying your memory

Finally, there is the all-pervasive myth that Google is making us stupid by removing our need to actually remember anything. Nicholas Carr's popular screed by this title uses all of the well-known tactics of technophobic scare  articles: a few anecdotal stories (he quotes a blogger who blames the internet for the fact that he no longer has a long enough attention span to read War and Peace) and a few over-the-top frightening speculations about the world being taken over by artificial intelligence — but little or no actual science.

The actual scientific data on how computers affect memory is much more complex. In 2011, Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner, and Jenny Liu collaborated on a series of studies to examine the way having access to stored information (such as Google) influences our memory. They did find that when people know that information is stored on a computer, so that they can look it up later, they do not remember it as well.

However, they also found that when people are presented with information that is stored on a computer, they have a heightened memory of where it is stored and how to retrieve it later. Their experiments showed that, rather than Google making people "lazy," it provided them with a different mechanism for encoding information: store a reference for how to find the information, rather than the information itself.

A far cry from the "Google is dumbing us down!" myth, the science actually shows that our minds are amazingly efficient. When you know that the information will be available to you later, you remember how to get it instead of what it is. It's the mental equivalent of the early hunter-gatherer who realizes that he doesn't have to carry all of the apples back to the village with him, if only he can remember how to get to the orchard.

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I don't expect these myths to go away anytime soon. People have been spreading myths about the evils of technology for hundreds of years. But at least you can arm yourself with these facts, so that the next time you come across an article telling you that your newest gadgets will surely lead to the decline of civilization (or whatever), you can know to be a little skeptical.

Discussion Questions:
1.   What are your thoughts about this topic after reading this article?
2.   What concerns you about today’s technology?
3.   What do you like about today’s technology?
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