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Latest Techno Moral Panic: Texting Is 'Rewiring Young Brains'

from the mmm-hmm dept

There have been a whole series of alarmist studies that get lots of press lately, with titles about how social networks or other technologies are somehow negatively impacting people's brains. Nearly all of these didn't hold up under much scrutiny, as they almost all took things out of context or greatly extrapolated a finding and misinterpreted the results. The latest to add to the pile? A report claiming that texting may be "rewiring young brains." The evidence? Kids who used mobile phones a lot finished a variety of tests much faster, but tended to be "less accurate." That's about it. From there, the guy who did the study concludes that it must be the fact that many mobile phones use "predictive texting" that's training kids to be fast, but inaccurate, assuming something else will come in and fix the mess. Now, perhaps that's true, but it seems like the study doesn't actually show that at all. Also, it's not clear from the report what sort of mistakes are being made. The article talks about spelling mistakes, which are common in texting, but the real question is whether or not that really matters? It may very well depend on context. In a text message, a spelling mistake isn't a big deal. In a resume, it's a different story. But where on that spectrum did these tests land? But more importantly, even if we grant the premise that kids who text a lot are a lot sloppier on certain tests... how do you go from that to immediately concluding that their brains are being wired differently? It sounds a lot more like what they've been trained to do, rather than any serious neurological shift.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Lucretious, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

    The Globe & Mail is typical British garbage journalism. The article is simply par for the course with that paper and most others in the UK.

     

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  2.  
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    Bazz, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 1:54pm

    did you even click ?

    it's the canadian globe and mail....

    on the other hand... the article is only a fine exemple of sensionalist journalism... everything from quoting experts unrelated to the study to quoting very short and meaningless phrases from the authors of the study.... but eh... this sells here in Canada...

     

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  3.  
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    DJ (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    2 mch txting mks u 1 bd splr

     

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  4.  
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    Trails, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:30pm

    Re:

    It's canadian, actually, but your awesome insights continue to astound. Please don't let this one tiny mistake disuade you from sharing your plentiful pearls of wisdom with us intellectual plebians.

     

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  5.  
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    Free Nintendo Points, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:33pm

    Neurological alterations take generations of evolution to occur, so it is just being trained or practiced under those types of texting methods.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:35pm

    Grrrrrrrrrrrr....

    "A report claiming that texting may be "rewiring young brains.""

    Brought to you by Elsevier?

    Great, so the major media groups that brought us the "No harm has been found in overmedicating your children (and thanks for the loan Rockefeller-owned Chase Bank, who has members on the Boards of NIH, WHO, Merck, Bayer, Johnson & Johnson, etc. etc etc.) is now going to tell us that texting is REWIRING BRAINS?

    Again, let me see if I have this straight: physical injested drug no problem, activity rewiring brain.

    Alright, I've had enough. Here's the deal, if you believe one once of what comes out of any large corporate media outlet without doing multiple fact-checking searches, then you have no interest in truth or knowledge. I usually try to see two sides to every issue, but this time.....no. You might think that there is information coming out of major news....you're wrong. End of story. No room for debate, no room for discussion. It's owned, and I don't mean by commercials. I mean literally owned through CEOs and banks reps on boards by what probably amounts to the collective membership of the CFR and Trilateral Commission.

    Mike, please tell me you're looking into that chapter in the book I suggested. It documents the evidence that most/all major media in this country is owned by 7 companies.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:37pm

    Kids aren't being taught spelling or grammer in school - or worse are being taught that they're irrelevant.
    Texting is just a cover for inferior education.

     

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  8.  
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    TW Burger (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:40pm

    Re: did you even click ?

    When I was in grade school they gave a series of IQ tests that all of the children took. I am careful and studious and answered most, not all, of the questions and got almost all of them correct. Students that went faster and attempted and did answer all of the questions but got many wrong were scored significantly higher than I was (I peeked). I thought: "What's the point of doing the work if the result is wrong?". I guess many of the children I was schooled with went on to run General Motors and work in the financial derivatives market.

    What is good and what is bad or what determines a smart child and what is a dullard seems to be a fashion of the pop-psychology of the times.

    I can see no harm done with the popularization of writing. The odd contractions used may not be grammatically correct but they are inventive and involved more gray matter than watching television. Yes, this is ill conceived, sensationalist drivel.

     

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  9.  
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    TW Burger (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 2:45pm

    Re: Grrrrrrrrrrrr....

    Careful, you'll blow out your helmet.

    I agree, much of what is presented as news and scientific fact is simply corporate propaganda.

    Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

     

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  10.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 3:21pm

    My brain is rewiring itself constantly. As I learn new things, the wiring in my brain changes, with new neural pathways forming, old ones strengthening or distancing themselves, or completely detaching themselves from each other. It's why we're so adaptive as a species. Our brains are not wired from Day-0 for specific tasks, but instead are general purpose devices that form based on bio & environmental feedback through biochemistry and sensory inputs combined with both conscious and subconscious analysis.

    Living causes the rewiring of brains. Else, everybody would be the exact same person every moment of every day, never learning, never growing, never changing.

    My brain is wired differently now than it was when I started writing this comment.

     

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  11.  
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    Clamp-Down-Roger-Dodger, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 3:22pm

    Re: Re:

    You are an intellectual lesbian:

    Emotionally hysterical and your breath smells of cigarettes and snatch.

     

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  12.  
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    Flipper, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: did you even click ?

    Sir or Madame:

    The IQ test that you took had two important aspects:

    1) Test for the intelligence indicated by being able to answer the questions "correctly"

    2) Test for the intelligence indicated by observing the allotted time and completing the test, whether or not you were entirely sure of the answers.

    You see, tests have shown that those individuals who are "careful" and "studious" are sometimes covering for a low IQ. The time limit is designed to "smoke out" those losers.

    Kind Regards,

    The IQ Test Gods

     

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  13.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 3:59pm

    Re:

    It is, indeed, Canadian, one of our two national newspapers. And honestly it's pretty good, most of the time - this is just an example of the way nearly all news media report on science and technology (read: very sloppily)

     

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  14.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:00pm

    Re: Re:

    full disclosure: I work at the other of our national newspapers.

     

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  15.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: did you even click ?

    You are right, but his main point still stands. In fact, IQ tests are a perfect example of pop psychology, even though they have managed to stay at the top of the allegorical charts for a long time.

    IQ tests don't "smoke out losers", they divide people based on a set of chosen criteria. An IQ score is essentially arbitrary. It measures something, but since the majority of people have only a foggy notion of what that something is (smart-ness? i guess?) it's pretty meaningless.

     

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  16.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:05pm

    Re:

    You are right of course. But most people don't know that, which is exactly why putting: "rewiring your brains" in a headline is a prime example of sensationalist journalism. It's akin to the old "di-hydrogen oxide" prank.

     

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  17.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Re:

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:07pm

    Re:

    Rofl...I txt adl to my BFF adl & R brains r gud

     

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  19.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 4:10pm

    Re:

    When grammar is taught, it's taught terribly. Poor kids are forced to remember parts of speech and weird tricks for distinguishing types of phrases and clauses, formal error names, on and on and on, instead of being encouraged to, I don't know, maybe read a book now and then.

    Honestly, an bit of daily reading is all it takes until you are in late high school English and actually need to know the formal terms for these things -- and then understanding those terms comes easily since they describe things you are already instinctively aware of.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 5:01pm

    Here is the thing. Your brain is adaptive. So no matter what you do it affects your brain. You read a book, it affects your brain. So in a sense everything you do "rewires" your brain. So it should come to no surprise that social networking does the same thing. The thing I would argue is that this stuff re - wires our brain to adapt to the new technology. This is a good thing. Sure we should still go outside and play sports and exercise too so our brain can be adapted to all things but if you honestly expect to go on the Internet and have no brain activity whatsoever then what's the point? That's like expecting to read a book and have no brain activity in the process whatsoever. We go on the Internet to acquire information which changes the chemicals in our brain. Big deal. Everything we do changes the chemicals in our brain.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 5:22pm

    Re:

    (To continue where I left of)

    In fact I would much rather text than have that cell phone held up next to my head. Or I could talk on speakerphone, that's better too. I do not want that radiation blasting near my head because the changes it may cause to my brain aren't part of the natural adaptive processes of my brain (since any changes the external radiation causes are not initiated by the natural processes of my brain but by the artificial processes of the phone. BTW, I know that this is controversial). So in a sense texting is good for us in that it takes away from having a phone blasting radiation right next to our head (just don't do it while driving).

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 5:27pm

    Re: Grrrrrrrrrrrr....

    what book is it, I'm interested to know.

     

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  23.  
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    TW Burger (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 5:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: did you even click ?

    You never think before you act, do you? Best of luck "Smart Guy".

     

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  24.  
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    TW Burger (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 5:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: did you even click ?

    I suppose that's why the IQ tests were dropped from schools. It was too easy to label children that were still developing and create self fulfilling outcomes.

    I guess "Flipper" is one of those Mensa members. IQ 166, same job as a government file clerk for 17 years, and expert at Dungeons and Dragons.

     

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  25.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 18th, 2009 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Re: Grrrrrrrrrrrr....

    Two I'd recommend amongst others (these two I just finished)

    1. Rise of the Fourth Reich (the one I recommended to Mike): excellent history of Allied financing of Red Russia and Nazi Germany, and the parallels between 1930's Germany and America today

    2. Rule By Secrecy: A look at how groups of the wealthy elite, namely the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the Bilderburgers have so pervaded American government as to have effectively taken away choice.

    Both are by Jim Marrs, who wrote one of the two books Oliver Stone's JFK was based on, and all of his books include extensive bibliographies for the purpose of sourcing.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 18th, 2009 @ 8:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Grrrrrrrrrrrr....

    Thanks

     

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  27.  
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    Richard Comaish, Aug 19th, 2009 @ 2:07am

    Predictive text no good for English; try ergonomic keypads instead

    English is not an ideal language for WC (word
    completion); see
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_completion#Examples_of_word_completion_in_general_text_editin g

    But consider the ergonomic possibilities of recognising letter frequencies in different languages (see http://www.kirby98.fsnet.co.uk/fq.htm )

     

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  28.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Aug 20th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The dihydrogen monoxide threat must be stopped! That stuff is everywhere ... it's in all the world's oceans, rivers, lakes ... it's coming out of our taps ... our CHILDREN ARE DRINKING THIS STUFF!!!

    WONT' SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!

     

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