Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Short messaging and change

It's remarkable how much our habits can change in ten brief years. A quote from an article written in 2001 by Jenny Preece includes a line about the rise of a new form of communication: "short messaging, or 'texting' as it is also known, is also becoming common in some countries." Ten years later her comment seems humorous just as it seems ludicrous to imagine an America where the majority of the population isn't texting constantly all day long. It's certainly not just high schoolers and Generation Y young professionals, even people who didn't grow up around computers and cell phones are becoming familiar with, and even passionate about, texting.

I've heard people talk about how texting and Google searches and even social media like Twitter is subtly changing the way we think and the way our brains work. All these methods and applications require short strings of words--a summary of a thought--and frequent use of this technology may have us thinking in abbreviations before long. I don't know if I buy the theories that all our modern technology is actually making us stupider. There is so much more information to receive and digest in today's world that without many of our technological gadgets we'd miss out on a large percentage of the information flow. But I think it is true that a combination of factors, namely this increase in information and the ease with which technology facilitates instant access and multitasking, have caused us to have a shallower, if broader, information base.

Where I might be more worried about our changing brain patterns is in the area of memory. With an iPhone you can look up a name, address, bus schedule, word definition, random news story or fact instantly. You don't have to worry about carefully planning a trip or remembering all the specifics of an event or meeting in advance. And when you do get to the point in your day where you need the information, you look it up on your phone without the urge to memorize the details even then because of the knowledge that an hour later, or twenty minutes later, or even ten minutes later if you need the information again you know where to find it. It will be intriguing to see what sort of research is being done in another ten years. I wonder if we'll still be texting then, or if we will have firmly moved on to whatever is coming next.

Jenny Preece. (2001). Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and
measuring success, Behaviour & Information Technology, 20:5, 347-356.

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