The end of January saw the much-vaunted launch of the Government’s interim ‘Digital Britain’ report: an ambitious plan to pipe broadband internet to every home by 2012, to create new, digital content for TV, radio and internet and to encourage economic growth.
But the report was released the day after a publication in the journal Science, of significant research from the University of California, which showed that our increasing exposure to visual information technology has led to a decline in our skills of critical thinking and analysis.
Patricia Greenfield, a professor of psychology at UCLA and the director of the Children’s Digital Media Center, analysed 50 studies on learning and technology, and concluded that while our visual literacy has improved, our ability to think and reflect is threatened as we hurry the transition from print to visual media.
‘By using more visual media, students will process information better,’ Greenfield said. ‘However, most visual media are real-time Internet accessmedia that do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination – those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games. Technology is not a panacea in education, because of the skills that are being lost.’
One of the studies examined by Greenfield followed a group of students, some of whom were given access to the internet during classes, while others were not. When the students were tested after lectures, the students without internet access performed better. ‘Wiring classrooms for internet access does not enhance learning,’ Greenfield said.
The two reports came just days before the launch of the Children’s Society’s influential book A Good Childhood, which criticised the internet generation’s addiction to social networking websites such as Facebook.
The book’s authors, psychologists Richard Layard and Judy Dunn, argue that the sites encourage users to brag about the number of ‘friends’ they have, without considering the quality of those friendships.