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How we create fictional characters in our mind.

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham [Two Weeks] (3 hours pw)

100% completed

Aimed at undergraduate academics of English Literature, possibly even third year or masters level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

How an image of the where and how my grandfather fought during the First World War has changed over 45 years

Fig. 1. How the six-eight year old me thought a farmhouse in the Ypres Salient looked like during the First World War in October 1917

For 45 years I have dwelt on how the images in my head associated with stories my grandfather told me about the First World War changed from those of a six year old, to an eleven year old, through my thirties and forties … my childhood conception of the imagined world depended on the little I had personally seen and experienced. When my grandfather spoke of keeping his machine gun in a pillbox pointing at a farmhouse held by ‘Jerry’ For three days I at first pictured an intact farm building, the kind I often saw in a rolling and lush Northumbrian landscape, with the heavy stone walls and full deciduous trees I knew from being driven down bouncy country lanes north east of Alnwick heading for Chathill and our fisherman’s holiday cottage in Beadnell.

The pillbox in my imagination would have had to been like those left from the Second World War on the beach that my brother and I played in – and used as a urinal.

Fig.2. The reality of life on the Front Line

Age eleven a few ghastly black and white pictures from the First World War and the title sequence from the BBC Series ‘The Great War’ coloured my imagination: it added a soundtrack, skulls and broken trees, but not the scale, nor the mud, not the rain, the cold, thirst and hunger. Although he could mimmick every shell the sound effects my grandfather made could never get close to the terrifying sound os something large and dangerous approaching and then the almighty bang that followed.

In my twenties I got to the Ypres Salient in summer: it was dry, a new autoroute split and the noise of traffic created a barrier. Several TV efforts at recreating the war failed, not least as my thoughts expended to take in the thoughts of a what it meant to be a young man in those conditions, that you were in and out for a bout of two or three days. The rest of the time if not on fatigues or carrying parties you were looking for things to do.

Fig. 3. The reality. A ‘camouflaged’ pillbox, recently taken while a couple of hundred yards beyond that low, light grey strip is a similar pillbox still in enemy hands.

‘Not a worm could live.” My grandfather would say. He lived, as did the German who in error entered my grandfather’s pillbox and got clobbered for his trouble.

Only now, thoroughly immersed in hundreds of curated photographs and having looked on destroyed, wet massively scarred landscapes from open mining, having smelt rotting flesh – not human, but a dead sheep several days gone, am I starting to develop a true image. With teenage children of my own it is too easy to imagine the horror of sending them to war. Images of what happens to a body when hit by shrapnel or bullets, or blown apart by shells are readily available.

Fig 4. As it was. The dead behind a stone wall. The very same image my grandfather had while he sat it out in the remains of a recently captured ‘Jerry’ strongpoint.

There is little left for my imagination to do, other than to see another drama reconstruction and feel that nothing has done it better than ‘All Quiet on the Western Front.’ It looks dated, somehow caught in the early 1970s when it was finally made, but ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ leaves you with the desired sense of hopelessness, horror and despair that one ought to have.

Fig.5. Returning to ‘Courage Post’ to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. Corporal John Arthur Wilson MM recalls too friends who died at his side and that he buried in the rubble never to be found. 

75 years after leaving that pillbox with two friends buried my 96 year old grandfather broke down: telling his stories as stories had been his escape from it, but back on the same soil, at the very spot with the light and low landscape just as it had been it once again had become horribly real. He withered away after that as if the reality of the war brought home to him made him whither from the inside out.

I know this part of the world well enough to walk it, step by step from the bivouacs outside Poperinghe, over the Yser Canal, through Langermarck and along the light rail track, then used to move men and matériel, now a cycle path. On towards Houthulst forest and the exact location of his machine gun company’s HQ at ‘Egypt House’ (a three roomed concrete strongpoint built into a farm building) and on another 300 yards to ‘Courage Post’ a pillbox on the edge of the road into the ‘forest’ – then ten thousand shards of broken tree trunks, now, buried in its midst, where they handled, until very recently, and destroyed old munitions from the extensive battlefield.

For all this ‘Jerry’ to me is still a black cartoon cat and the ‘Hun’ something barbaric from the fall of the Romans as a drawing in a Ladybird book. We are our own film directors when it comes to reading; an author is a catalyst to our thoughts that can conjure up anything – which, in part, is the fun of it. We inhabit a world of our own in the orchestra of our minds, the author the composer, as readers we conduct, as listeners or viewers the director injects a piece of their own mind.

Parts of ‘Lord of the Rings’ is more evocative of the conflict of two massive armies than much that I have seen or read – and I have seen and read most of it, including now one divisional history after another, and long out of print obscure autobiographies. It has created an image in my head. Of a screwball world where the daily job was to plan and execute slaughter against the enemy on a massive scale – slaughter than in those days treated men like so many bullets, shells or mules to expend, the only fear being whether or not they could be replaced.

How to read a mind

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham[Two Weeks] Fig.1. The image I’ve used for a decade to represent my blogging under the pseudonym ‘mind bursts’.

79% Complete

Four activities remaining to complete. A touch more academic than some. I guess this is undergraduate English Literature, but third year. Or is it pitched at postgraduate level. I have had to spend more time with the reading than I expected in order to grasp the main thesis relating to ‘Theory of Mind’. It is proving complementary to ‘Start Writing Fiction’ as it shows how we conceive of, and follow imagined and real characters in a world, in our heads, that is always part factual, part fictional.

The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

Travel opens the mind


Fig.1 Against the British Library opposite St.Pancras International .

I love to travel, not just on holiday with friends and family, but alone. Maybe this happens to you too, but I always find travel, especially new trips and destinations, is a catalyst to reflection.

I’m on the earliest train out of Lewes, East Sussex to Birmingham (5:20). I get a lot done.

If I have a place where I am most creative and productive this is it. How does it open the mind? All I’m doing is reading a book about boy soldiers in the First World War while revising a hefty piece of fiction centred on this period. ‘Angel of the North’ is the story of an amazing girl and woman who experiences the first war like no other … ‘

Anyway, on the basis that I have always been advised that research helps solve all fiction writing problems I am taking this as literally as is possible and start today as an MA student of First World War studies at the University of Birmingham.

Will I as a result ‘research the subject until I hear its people speak?’ This is what the historian E R Elton said.

Vomit Bobbins


As a child whenever I was going to be sick I dreamt of bobbins drifting through the sky like clouds, as if my head was upside down in a brightly lit drawer of the things.

I saw bobbins yesterday and my mind took me back to the 8 year old who felt unwell – it turns out that my system can’t abide certain things: too much chocolate icecream might have done it, or just a Cadbury’s Fudge Finger and a Coke.

Curious is it not how the brain first constructs such an image and then tags it?

Teenagers doing physics with the intervention of a computer to prompt discussion: a paper reviewed

In the abstract we are told that ‘Although ICT resources are commonly expected to produce uniform benefits’ Tolmie (2001) Are they? And that, ‘they are necessarily employed within pre-existing contexts of educational and social activity’. Tolmie (2001)

When and where could a context NOT be pre-existing?? Something is, or is not. Context is an absolute.

Rather, what is that specific context. Otherwise this is tautology. It is like saying that electricity pylons go into an existing landscape. Isn’t this stating the obvious so that a gullible audience nod in agreement?

Tolmie (2001) talks of ‘unexpectedly diverse effects’. Unexpectedly or diverse? Surely not both.

Is this not something of an exaggeration? And in any case, such diverse responses should be either expected, or not presumed either way to be likely or unlikely to happen. It is very dangerous to pre-empt findings.

I visualise the introduction of new technology such as this as drops of ink in a pool of water in a stream  – it has to compete with the mix that is already there, as well as its natural flow and other behaviours – leaking away into the land and evaporation for a start.

My conclusion based on reading the abstract is to: Think people above all else. Internal and external contexts are fluid and based on responses too and feelings.

It is all complex, and more to do with the brains of the individuals than simply their context . Everything can and should be measured in some way, from an agreed benchmark, to monitor, track then analyse. It is far more complex.

Take any class, habituated by the classroom, the people around us and the pattern and behaviour of the teacher … especially on a warm Friday afternoon, no wonder the mind wanders. Just because a person is physically in a classroom, even participating in a task, does not mean that much is going in if they are dreaming of the weekend or Fiona Henderson from the girl’s school down the road …

The expression ‘oversimplified’ used by Tolmie (2001)  is a) hyperbole b) a value judgment.

Better ‘simplified’, preferably qualification of the term – simplified as in ‘clipped or contained’ that parameters are created because of the remit of the funding process. You are not able to ‘look outside the box’ as only that which takes place in the box is funded. There needs to be some of one and some of the other – research based on ‘tackling circumscribed needs’ while at the same time research that has an open brief and is open ended – that stands back to see the wood for the trees, rather than, to continue the metaphor, to examine only one kind of tree in the woods in order to avert the ‘mentality of one-stop resources’ mentioned by Oliver & Conole (1998)

How else do you address improving a situation other than by identifying the problems?

Anything else is misguided (literally), or indulgent. Far worse, in the NHS, and Post Office and Banking System have been wholesale computing systems that really were alien and universal.

Change management. Everyone has a point. Time to listen and involves matters most. The psychology of innovation. Resistance is despised. (Robinson et al., 1998)

Making the wrong assumptions that blame the teachers rather than the technology – which is a catalyst for complexity, rather than a tool for conformity.

Evaluation work also rarely does more than examine the explicitly intended effects of ICT, and so fails to identify unintended or serendipitous repercussions that may actually be a critical aspect of its impact (Jones, 1998).

But the entire point and context of an exam is to remove such context in the surroundings by placing the student in ‘exam conditions’ in a neutral space, where parameters of time and context are controlled and aim to be common to other students and impartial.

Surroundings mean different things to different people. It is naive and deterministic to think that people are so easily governed by their context. The individual over the surroundings. Unless we think students are like a uniform tribal grouping.

I’m through the reading and taking it further – reading the original paper to see if my concerns and amusement are justified.

I find the gender difference uninsightful and unhelpful – we know this anyway. Men and woman are different physiologically – which includes the brain where there are various documented differences especially between the differing amount of grey and white matter and the concentration of neurones and close connections in women compared to men. But the differences between men and women are not black and white (and their are not racial differences whatsoever) … within these differences there is considerable variety.

Now add each person’s context – which for me starts a few months after conception and every possible influence since – the same chaos theory that says that when a butterfly beats its wings in the Brazilian Jungle there is a typhoon in Malaysia will suggest that that marshmallow your grandmother gave you on Christmas day when you were six while watching Jimmy Saville introduce the Chart Show will influence how you respond to the 14 year old boy you have been paired up with in a physics class who offers you a handful of mini-marshmallows by way of ‘making friends’ who in turn is nervous about this strange but beautiful creature who he hasn’t noticed all year but rather fancies even though his older brother has his eye on her – what was that the teacher said checking the trajectory of your balls on the computer ?????

The wrong approach was taken, though the theory throws up some interesting questions

I will change my opinion as I go through my notes but my current stance is that a quantitative before and after study requires many hundreds of participants in a randomised controlled trial and the gender differences are a distraction – far better to have administered questionnaires before and after and drawn upon each students SATS results or some such to get some sense of where they were coming from in relation to physics.

More interesting pairings would be like-minds and enemies – really. A couple of buddies having a laugh might learn less than a pair who can’t stand each other, or another pair who are rivals.

Have I been watching too many teen movies? Probably.

Already I have a script in my head based on Tolmie in which far from being the less talkative, the FM pairs are chatting away to themselves (in their heads, written and delivered as stream of consciousness voice over), communicating in subtle ways through body language and as a result actually communicating more, not less than the ones who won’t shut up – and who may be playing up to the research conditions.

This is the other fundamental humdinger of a problem – these students are being tested under ‘lab conditions’.

My memories of teenager physics classes are more akin to St.Trinian’s with boys. I even have a diary to call upon which I may look at just to get me into the role. I have a household of teenagers and another five nephews and nieces in this age bracket if I need to be reminded of what it is (and was) like.

Oddly enough, work is often the last thing on their minds. Which is why homework is so important – fewer potential distractions.

This will be less than hearsay in due course – I am also refreshing what it was and is like to be a teenager through some additional reading. Problem is my daughter senses that I am observing her from time to time.

I’m just asking myself the same question I asked when she was born, ‘what is going on in there?’ – but in a quasi-academic rather than father-daughter way.

Researchers make the mistake of believing that their intervention – in this case using a computer to support a physics class by trying to prompt discussion – is going to make some measurable difference.

Can they not see the bigger picture, and how vast it is?

If each human brain has as many neurons in it as the visible galaxy – 98 billion, and each brain though similar, is connected in different ways, by gender but essentially by genetics, with every remembered moment of waking and sleeping life in between. This is why, to have something measurable, researchers taken to the lab and until recently would have stuck with sea-snails, rats and in the past cats and primates … while gradually observation and measurement of electro-chemical activity in the human brain has become possible.

When it comes to exams surely examiners know that the response to a unique set of questions in an exam, certainly at undergraduate level, if not at post compulsory level, will test the student’s ability to construct a response both from what they know, and what they have to surmise.


Jones, C. 1998 Evaluating a collaborative online learning environment Active Learning

Oliver, M. & Conole, G. (1998) Evaluating communication and information technologies: a toolkit for practitioners. Active Learning, 8,3–8.

Robinson, H., Smith, M., Galpin, F., Birchall, D., Turner, I. (1998) As good as IT gets: have we reached the limits of what technology can do for us? Active Learning, 9, 50–53.

Tolmie, A. (2001), Examining learning in relation to the contexts of use of ICT. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17: 235–241. doi: 10.1046/j.0266-4909.2001.00178.

Timelines, theories and technologies

This is a learning dilemma that will become increasingly prevalent. You have a stinker of a complex mass of resources and cobbled together ideas to compile into some kind of order only to find that it has been done for you. This is an activity of how understandings of the process of learning has changed over time.

On of our tutors offers a helping hand:


Take your time reading this through and then consider how these historical changes might affect

  • the development of educational technologies
  • ethical considerations in e-learning research
  • research in your own discipline.

There’s quite a lot in there. If you want to start just responding to one of the bullet points above, that’s fine.

When these modules are designed is proper consideration really given to the students? Who they are? There levels of commitment and understanding? For all the personas I’m familiar with I do wonder.

And that’s not even the start of it. We are then asked to look back at week 3 (a month ago), and look for relationships and connections between the narrative we create (above). Then, as if this isn’t enough we need to rope in last weeks ethical considerations, and while we’re at at put in the ‘wider political and social changes’.

Already we have, in my estimation (and this is my sixth postgraduate module and the fifth in the MAODE series) a good 16 hours work to do.

But there’s more:

‘Consider how the subject you studied for your undergraduate degree has changed over time’.

Post your answers in your tutor group forum and compare them with others.

Across the five groups I think, so far two, sometimes three people, have given this a go. Each could write a chapter in a book (one nearly has)

2 Hours have been allocated to the task.

I repeatedly find that whatever time is given as a suggested requirement for a week’s activities that you need to add 50%. So 14 hours becomes 21.

Like a junior solicitor I’ve been keeping tabs on how long everything takes – and this is someone who is by now, evidentially, digitally literate and familiar with the OU VLE. If you can find 21 hours great. If not then what? If you can handle getting behind or strategically leaving gaps that’s fine, but if you feel obliged to get you money’s worth and want to do it all then what? And of course life goes on around you: kids off school, elderly relations fall ill, the workload ebbs and flows, the car breaks down … your Internet connection becomes about as vibrant as a mangle and it snows a bit.

A simple guide to four complex learning theories


I came across this from edudemic and can’t think of anything clearer.

The discussion offers some further thoughts, deleting the word ‘traditional’ and replacing with classical.

The ifs and buts of the people associated with each of these and how absolute any of them can be, especially connectivism. However, I see connectivism not as the end of a chronological chain, but rather a loop that has people connected and learning in their family, extended family and community. And the one component that has not changed a jot? The way the human brain is constructed during foetal development and the unique person who then emerges into any of some hundreds of thousands of different circumstances and from way they may or may not develop ‘their full potential’. Though I hazard a guess that this will always remain impossible to achieve. 98 billion neurons take a lot of connecting. It starts at around 4 months after conception and only ends with death – death being after the vital physiological supports have collapsed and like the self-destructing tape in Mission Impossible ‘all is lost’.

The infographic runs to and 12 rows. This is the last row. The rest you ought to see for yourselves.

Copyright 2013 © Edudemic 

Powered by coffee, and a love all things education technology.

Simplistically the technologies I can add across this chronology are:

Books – Learning by rote > Literacy (writing, paper) – but then the Oxbridge Tutorial goes back over 750 years and that was and still is ‘Constructivism’ before someone came along 700 years later and gave it a name.

I’m reminded of the aphorism from Philip Larkin, ‘Sex started in the Sixities’ – about the same time as constructive learning. As for ‘connectivism’ what happens in a market, what has happened at religious gathering for millennia? Why do clever people have to come along and say these things have never happened before? Connectivism = discussions. Perhaps we’d be better off NOT writing it down, by going and finding people. I spoke to a Consultant the other week who for all the technology and e-learning swears by the conference. And for how many millennia have ‘experts’ like-minds and the interested (and powerful/influential) had such opportunities to gather.

In 1999 my very first blog post was titled ‘what’s new about new media, not much’.

Whenever I read it I feel the sentiment is the same – as people we have not changed one jot. Just because everyone has a ‘university in their pocket’ – if they are some of the few hundred million out of the 7 billion on the planet who have a Smart Phone or iPad does not change the fundamentals of what we are and the connectedness of our brains.


What’s going on in there? This apparently!


New Scientist 9 February 2013 Mind Maths by Colin Barras

What is the Internet doing to our brains? Not much. Though Nicholas Carr begs to differ.


The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our Brains?

Nicholas Carr

Love it or hate it the Internet is here for keeps.

I had might as well say forever, as we would all surely agree that everything we’ve got so far will only become more pervasive during our respective lifetimes.

I had hoped to get an objective view from Carr but ‘The Shallows’ fails to say what
the Internet is doing to our brains.

I would love to time travel and stop my ancestors from what they were doing 35,000 years ago so that I could have shared with them what making stone tools would do to their brains and where it would lead.

What’s different? Not much.

They would have been too busy to listen, or, as we are doing, they would listened but pressed on

Carr lacks the credentials, training or inclination to answer the very question he poses.

Journalists and authors, Nicholas Carr is both, want to sell copy so he has to take a stance – he is against.

‘The Shallows’ is an apt title as his research lacks depth. Look a bit closer and many of the authors he cites say as much to counter the arguments as support them, take the Nobel prize winning Eric Kandel who on the one hand identified the ‘plasticity of the brain’, but also showed that through habituation a sort of boredom sets in – hardly the case that Google is taking us over as Carr would gave us believe.

Whatever our attractions and distractions, unless we have behavioural or cognitive issues, the
Internet is no more a trap, no more changing how we think than the book, TV or radio in the past. Despite the Internet we still sleep, make friends, go to school or work, shop, make love, raise kids …

the human world is too complex, too fluid to have been taken over in the way Carr suggests.

What the Interent ‘does to our brains’ is no different to anything else if we engage or apply ourselves for long enough. Carr has a US-centric view too, and a US where everyone of course has Internet access, a smartphone or laptop. He projects this scheme of things onto the rest of the world as if it is the same in North Yorkshire where there is limited broadband access, or to Lake Nakuru, Kenya where there is none.

In his ignorance or arrogance he assumes that everyone is like him and his friends, borderline ADHD, easily bored, addicted to the early adoption of whatever comes along. If half an audience agree with Carr when he suggests that the Internet is taking over their mind and this is a bad thing, the other half will say that it is not – that it is a tool there to do their bidding.

Personally, I come over giddy with excitement when I start a quest to research and read, just as I got each morning when I entered a different library as an undergraduate at Oxford. Then amazed at the knowledge before my eyes that could be called up in a few hours or days. Today equally gobsmacked by tools and resources courtesy of the Open University Online Library that offers up just about anything I can find and want to read in seconds. I’m mot the slave to a platform
or a piece of kit – I move around in both the physical and the virtual sense from different access devices – smartphone, iPad, laptop or desktop as well as through different portals. There isn’t
the sameness to it that Carr implies.

There is variety everywhere you turn. And this is my unique and personal perspective. To avoid
regression to the mean in large scale research on use of and behaviours as a consequence of using the Internet I would invariably be discounted anyway. Far from discounting the few
people Carr speaks to he holds them up as representative of all of us. Proper research could well conclude the opposite to what Carr thinks.

Carr chooses his metaphors to support his perspective – this is natural, but he wants us to think he is speaking in absolute terms, that we all ‘forage in the thickets’. It is a passing phase. Get out of a taxi in a country we have never been to before and we all feel a little lost and overwhelmed. We get over it. Sitting on the fence, as academics do, doesn’t sell books.

They don’t scaremonger. If nothing has changed they say so. ‘What’s the Internet doing to our brains? Not much’ isn’t going to see a title, book or magazine, flying off the shelves. People, in their purchase, like to declare ‘I am for or against’. If Carr had honestly been for he would, like Professor Martin Weller, have published ‘The Shallows’ as open source in a digital form, instead
it is marketed like the latest film staring Sandra Bullock or Nicole Kidman and only made available in analogue form. Carr has a first degree in English literature and a Masters in American literature. He can graze a few articles on neuroscience and webscience but this hardly qualifies him to describe with accuracy how the mind works. Neuroscientists will ponder for decades to come the way we remember. Carr therefore falls back on a potted history, selecting those arguments that support his thesis, rejecting those that do not. He suggests for example that information flows through the eyes and ears to our minds. I’d like to measure that. I’d like
to see that.

Perception isn’t achieved in this way.

No substance flows from one place to another . It is this misconception that must give Carr the impression that his mind is somehow filling up, or getting aggitated by the bombardment of ‘stuff’. The Internet isn’t the problem, rather it is Carr’s own physiological and pscychological response to it. His personal fix, if this is his desire, should be cognitive behavioural therapy. The Net may be
chipping away at Carr’s capacity to concentrate but he and we know that everyone is not like him. Personally, and his is a often a personal, anecdotal story so I can respong from my singular
perspective, I feel as though I was made for the web. The ADHD mind that hungers for everything can in some measure be satisified so long as I give no single interest more than three hours at a time, and I mix up the activities in any 18 hour period when I am not asleep. Carr wants us to believe that the Net is stopping us from being able to concentrate. On the contrary, I find I can now get the exact book or paper I need which I will read cover to cover in eBook or print form. There is less need for compromise. If the book isn’t holding your attention blame the book – find one that better suits you. And finding what does suit you is what the Internet and Google in particular, does do staggeringly well.

Three decades ago my reading pattern was to have six books on the go. I would rotate,
two chapters or two hours on each. Of the six two might be on history, another two on technology, and the fifth and six a novel and a book on design, art or photography. All six might now be in digital for – though the art book is as likely to be large and hardback. And the books may be spinkled with links offered any the author/editor to video or supporting websites. Whether or not I
take up a link is no different to whether or not I stop to read a footnote, or follow up a reference.

The choice is mine, not Google’s. Google enables to my mind, while Carr believes it disables. He is wrong. My handwriting has become illegible. Do I blame Google for the lack of practice, or not having access to a QWERTY keyboard for a few hours yesterday? I coach swimming. I understand adaptation in sport, the phsiological process that links mind to body and action. Your mind and body learn how to do a thing … then you get lazy, or impatient, or come to think of it, resort to scribbling a note with a cheap biro onto the back of an envelope rather than digging out the Sheafer fountain pen and writing, at a desk, rather than propped up on the sitting room sofa
… ‘use it or lose it’ applies to a kid swimming an IM or a Fifty something surfing the Web. If he wants to ‘lose it’ in relation to his behaviours and the Interent all Carr needs to do is something else.

Personally, and I have stated this every year or so in the 13 years I have been blogging, I crave a book – a clear, well–written, single–minded read from end to end, getting into the ‘flow’ of another person’s thinking i.e the Interent has the exact opposite effect on me. But it isn’t just me. Does the ‘Internet’ make us less or more social? Less or more likely to go out and meet up?

Research shows that being sociable online has us wanting to meet face to face. It’s counter intuitive. That’s because the Internet is just a mirror to our natural behaviour. The Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University has a series of labs designed to monitor how we engage with technology, the Internet in particular. To see and measure and understand how we behave with kit and software – we need to listen to the reports they produce and that other institutions such as the IET produce. They will tell us what is really going on because Carr has not. Carr uses research of the past, often the distant past, to inform what is happening today.

The technological distance between Plutarch, Aristotle, Freud and Dewey is too great. Quoting Shakespeare or Arthur C Clarke may provide colour and plausibility, but it doesn’t tell me
what is going on when or as we exploit what can now do, and read, and see and interactive with online. Carr references the ignorant as examples of the informed. I’d describe this as the blind leading the blind. Two fools in a pub can wax lyrical about the ways of the world wide web but the rest of us are none the wiser as a result of listening in. What Carr needs to undertake next, far less sexy that a sensationalist article for the popular rather than the academic press, is research.

To set parameters and to ask a question then set about testing and analysing what is going on. Marshall McLuhan, like Carr fifty years later, knew how to spin an intelligent story. McLuhan then and Carr today read like the transcript of a standup comic for the well read. They both dip into historic greats, but this kind of intellectual name dropping whilst appearing to prop up their arguments starts to crumble when scrutinised closely.

Web 2.0 does this, on the one hand toppling flase prophets such as Marc Prensky and the nonsense of the ‘digital native’. According to Carr ‘we’ must have had minds formed by papyrus scrolls and printed books in the past, just as our minds are so clearly so different courtesy of the Internet.

Who is this ‘we’? It cannot be everyone.

Carr mentions three friends and their experience of the web … as if these people are representative of all human kind. ‘My friend said to me … at a dinner party the other week … a colleague feels that’. Each of these phrases sounds to me as if it could be a transcript from a dinner party. Nothing wrong with conversation if we recognise its context and so long as this isn’t offered as some kind of evidence.

Carr is using this as evidence though. He cites these anecdotes as if they are representative. ‘ ‘The Shallows’ is hear say from one page to the next. He really ought to be writing fiction. No harm in this, at least Aldous Huxley, H G Wells, Arthur C Clarke and even Asimov differentiate between fiction and fact.

Our thought process has never been linear … and book reading certainly didn’t make it so. If anything the way those of us with permanent access to the internet work with information is more in tune with the scattered, fluid, formative nature of thought. Asking ‘What is the Internet doing to our brains?’ could never be answered
by doctoral research.

The question is too broad and ill defined.

‘In using the word processor I had become something of a wordprocessor myself’ p. 13. A statement that can be applied to anyone, at anytime, acquiring an adaptive skill whether at the piano or with flint tools, whether progamming a computer or building a fence. We ‘become’ these things, or rather acquire a additional skills alongside many others. If we use an iPad to take a picture, offer a book, tot up the shopping bill, play music or a TV show, sketch or chat with a friend on the other side of the world what is it that Carr says we have become? We can do all of these things from one device in a shorter space of time – far from defining or confining us I call this liberating.

If Marshall McLuhan talked of the ‘global village’ of the electrical age of mass media, then today these devices put the world at our sides, in our pocket, at our finertips, and courtesy of Google Glass or an Apple device on our noses and wrist. It doesn’t make us one jot the less human, one jot the less a smart, feeble, fallible and mortal creature with all the same pecadillos that Shakespeare so well described 400 years ago. It is p. 14 a ‘high–tech Swiss Army knife’ which may, or may not demand my attention and can be put down, out away or lost, even forgotten about with equal ease.

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