27 January 2008

The Minds, They Are A’Changing

Our minds are changing, and I suspect that technology is contributing to the change.

A while back, I wrote a piece on television and ADD (Wait, Maybe We Shouldn’t Kill Our TVs). Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of watching a based-on-the-book lecture by David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous.

I adamantly insist that, when creating a filing system, “Miscellaneous” is verboten – it is the black hole of filing. As long as we are talking about physical items, I believe it is important for us to identify how something is being used and why we are keeping it, and then to use that information to guide where we put it.

In his talk, Weinberger explains how the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place” makes sense as an organizing concept so long as we are dealing with physical objects. After all, physical objects occupy space, and only one object can occupy that space at one time. But with the advent of computer technology, and especially with the Internet, how we access information has changed. Information no longer needs to occupy only one space. Indeed, online, it can be accessed from many different angles, and becomes more available to us the more places it is “filed.”

I have a client who is a nonfiction author and who’s been diagnosed with ADD. She had file drawers full of clippings and notes for the book she was writing, and hired me to help organize those files. It was a fascinating process because she continually saw the relationships between the information, the connections, and wanted to file accordingly. But the connections were fluid and changeable, which makes accessing the information difficult. Instead, I encouraged her to let me set up the files based on what the information actually was, instead of what it could be. (This worked well for her, by the way, and she thanked me for insisting on this system.)

Because we were dealing with physical objects, with pieces of paper, we were limited to choosing one place for each paper. To set up a cross-reference system – let alone to maintain it! – would have been beyond tedious. BUT, if all this information had been bits of data living in the Internet ether, we could have pursued a different organizational model.

Here’s where I’m going with this: The Internet mirrors the ADD mind. Both are structured around connections and relationships, instead of being limited to linear space.

Which leads me to wonder: What is the relationship between the technological explosion (of television, and of the Internet) and the changes I’m seeing in how our minds process information?

The other piece I’m wondering about is: Why are so many more people being diagnosed with Aspergers? I now have three friends with Aspergers children. How does this fit in with the increase of folks with ADD, and with the changes in technology and how we receive and process information? Or does it?


Jennifer Swanson said...

Hi Claire...check out FAILURE TO CONNECT: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It (Jane Healy) and ENDANGERED MINDS: Why Children Don't Think And What We Can Do About It (Jane Healy). These address the consequences of TV and computer use.

laura said...

While i admit it's probably real that more people are ADD and/or Asperger's, i think it's also that more people are being diagnosed that way, people who formerly would've just been called eccentric, artistic, withdrawn, genius, or whatever. We have the DVD "In the Realms of the Unreal"-- about the janitor/secret artist Henry Darger-- and it made me think... nowadays he would've been put on drugs as a child and probably never would have had that bizarrely focussed life. However, that leads to the question, Is that always bad? Maybe the world doesn't need more prolific artists who live "abnormal" private lives... maybe just calming down and dulling the weirdness and having a normal life of eat, drink, sleep, purchase, plan funeral is the way... whaddya think?