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Education and Electronic Media T. David Gordon You have thirty minutes before your next responsibility, and you can choose between watching television, logging onto the Internet, or reading an article in Atlantic . Which do you choose, and why? You would probably like to think the answer has something to do with the content : The Internet (or television) is more interesting than Atlantic , or closer to your own perspective on life. But the real answer is probably neurological: you may not have the capacity to read a sustained argument or analysis for thirty minutes. You can observe a minute-and-a-half clip on Breitbart, or a thirty-second bite on televised news, but you may not be able to read serious, nuanced, sustained reasoning. Your brain has been shaped; not by Big Brother, not by your parents, not by the public school system. It has been shaped, neurologically, by electronic, image-based media. Just as important, your brain has not been shaped by frequent exposure to sustained and nuanced reasoning. Neuroscientists such as Susan Greenfield and Daniel J. Levitin 1 have empirically substantiated what media ecologists such as Marshall MacLuhan, Walter Ong, and Neil Postman had observed non-empirically: that the brain is not a static, but a dynamic, reality; its properties have a certain plasticity to them, that are shaped by many things (including, obviously, mood- altering drugs such as Ritalin, Paxil, or Prozac). 2 1  Susan Greenfield,  ID:    The Quest for Identity in the 21st Century  (Hodder & Stoughton, 2008).  Daniel Levitin,  This is Your Brain on Music:  The Science of a Human Obsession  (Dutton Adult,  2006). 2  The technical term for this is “neurogenesis,” though some also refer to “neuro-plasticity.”  The Society for Neuroscience maintains a website with a substantial amount of information distilled  from peer-reviewed scientific journals.  The reader may find helpful their brief article on “Adult  Neurogenesis” (June, 2007), available at <http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm? 1
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Media Ecologists had observed this before, and had suggested that what they called the “sensoria” (the five senses plus the two properties of the brain, rationality and imagination) were plastic, shaped by what they experienced. Listen to complex music many times, and you can “hear” things in it you could not before. Taste many different wines, and you begin to taste things you could not taste before (such as the limestone in a 2004 Peter Franus Cabernet, sadly less present in the 2005). Read a substantial amount of a given author’s work, and you conform your sensibilities to the author’s diction, and can “hear” things you could not before. Second and third novels by Cormac McCarthy are easier to read than the first; the one hundredth reading of Robert Frost is much easier than the first, as your sensibilities adjust to a poet who has learned “in singing not to sing.” Read sustained, nuanced argumentation, and you can comprehend it as you could not before.
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