Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring skiing - and on the rewiring of the brain

I have been reading Nicholas Carr's provocative book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr discusses how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember - making our brains (and ourselves) different from what we used to be before.

Carr shows plenty of examples how technology changes people, some of which is anecdotal but plenty of which is backed by fresh psychology and neurology research, using techniques such as brain imaging. When reading a book, our brain acts very differently than when using browsing the net. Instead of deep contemplation we are skipping here and there, never focusing.

Although in principle this shouldn't be a big deal - we have adapted to technology before, for example in pocket calculators. But the net is different. It doesn't engage deep thought, and little of what we read goes from the short-term memory to the long term memory. And because we are what we remember, we are changing as human beings.

I highly recommend this book. And how this is related to photography?

I realized that maybe also the camera you use may rewire your brain differently. (This thought was inspired by Andreas' recent posting.)

The difference may not be that big - or it might be. Our brains are such adaptable, plastic things, changing all the time, getting rid of stuff we no longer use (like the skill of reading books) and developing new skills instead.

We can change ourselves by changing our approach to photography. The camera we use may affect how we see the world, in quite dramatic ways. So it may not be such a trivial thing which type of camera you select.

5 comments:

Carl said...

Juha,

This book turned up in the local library a few months ago and I found it fascinating. (As an aside, it is also a beautifully written piece of non-fiction. As an old English Major I'm shocked at the poor copy editing of many current books and noticed that not only is the author's style able to make a potentially dull, academic subject into an exciting page-turner, but he does so with no copy-edit errors to trip up my reading. I suspect it's because his copy was clean to start with.)

The impact of equipment on the way we make pictures is enormous, even if some try to pretend it isn't. In the old days, the difference between using a rangefinder vs an SLR had all sorts of effects, both large and subtle. Now simply the operational differences between cameras—how many dials, how much menu-diving?—directly impacts the way we interface with our subjects and so the way the pictures come together. The difference between using any sort of eye-level, look-through viewfinder vs a 3-inch LCD screen a couple feet out in front of us is enormous.

David from Quillcards Ecards said...

I haven't read this book but I read recently that that part of the brain that is concerned with spatial location is much more developed in London taxi drivers than in the geneal population.

The research established that it is not that certain people are predisposed to being taxi drivers but that the spatial ability in taxi drivers develops over time with continued experience.

In order to develop any idea, we need a framework. The framework is a kind of interior universe. If the idea requires logic, then the framework must have a logical framework.

I was thinking about this in connection with mobile phones. In order to move around the menus we need to have an internal copy of the architecture of the menus.

With more use, I don't think it takes much of a leap to imagine that we develop that kind of ability to conceptualise the pathways and trees of the menus

The question that interests me is what the 'logic' of creativity is.

Juha Haataja said...

@Carl: Indeed, the writing was extraordinary clear. And one can't but wonder how much equipment of Ansel Adams affected his seeing (all the filters etc.)

@David: Indeed - and the changes in the brain happen rather fast. For example, when people start to play computer games, the changes are visible within a week (using brain imaging).

Matthew said...

When I purchased my new camera, I was amazed: here I was, interacting with an electronic device that brought me *into* the world rather than out of it. Further acquaintance with the architecture of the thing pulled me deeper into it and eventually *through* the menus, options, etc. and into the world in exciting new ways.

It was the first real "hooray for technology and
gadgets!" moment I've had in some time.

Juha Haataja said...

@Matthew: You remind me of the experience of using the Canon Digital Ixus 400 for the first time, and seeing the results on the computer. A revelation - this is how photography should work.

Interestingly, I have looked at the "old" Ixus 400 photographs, and some of them are really good, even though the camera specs were nothing to brag about. And some of them are such that I wouldn't know how to do the same with the LX3.