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【经济学人】互联网愚民时代

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1492年,也就是哥伦布横跨大西洋的那一年,一位身居德国、名为特里特米乌斯的本笃会修院院长写到了一些书记员对于神性的捍卫,他们试图通过手抄经卷来将上帝的言语最为深刻地印在脑海之中。不过为了推销自己的作品,他使用了那个年代革命性的技术,印刷术。数字革命评论家、美国人尼古拉斯·卡尔也面对着类似的矛盾处境。作为一个博客写手和正式持牌的“数字文人”,他十分担忧网络会给人类的思想和创新敲响警钟。
IN 1492, the same year that Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, a Benedictine abbot named Trithemius, living in western Germany, wrote a spirited defence of scribes who tried to impress God’s word most firmly on their minds by copying out texts by hand. To disseminate his own books, though, Trithemius used the revolutionary technology of the day, the printing press. Nicholas Carr, an American commentator on the digital revolution, faces a similar dichotomy. A blogger and card-carrying member of the “digerati”, he is worried enough about the internet to raise the alarm about its dangers to human thought and creativity.
这段时间有关Facebook隐私的问题闹得沸沸扬扬,这可以算是对于人类网络人生的最新一次冲击。卡尔先生也为这种焦虑情绪的累积添上了一笔,2008年,他在《大西洋月刊》上写了一篇《Google让我们变笨?》的文章。他的新书进一步调查了人类认知的科学与历史。这种担忧并不新鲜:十年前就有迹象表明,PowerPoint不仅仅改变了主管们展示信息的方式,还改变了他们的思维。卡尔的贡献在于,他提供了到目前为止可读性最强的科学综述。他显然不想把书写成长篇的哀叹文字。不过写着写着,他还是忍不住蹦出两句,称这种浏览方式的影响比他预想的“更为恼人”。
The recent uproar over privacy on Facebook is only the latest backlash against man’s newly wired existence. Mr Carr did his bit to encourage the anxiety in 2008 with an essay in the Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His new book is an expanded survey of the science and history of human cognition. Worry of this kind is not new: a decade ago, the first evidence suggested that PowerPoint changed not just how executives presented information, but also how they thought. Mr Carr’s contribution is to offer the most readable overview of the science to date. It is clearly not intended as a jeremiad. Yet halfway through, he can’t quite help but blurt out that the impact of this browsing on our brains is “even more disturbing” than he thought.
人类倾向于认为他们能够控制自己使用的工具,但不管是苏格拉底、传播学学者马歇尔·麦克卢汉还有教育家依凡‧依利希却都声称无法做到这一点。从字母表到时钟,再到印刷术,每一种新的科技都深刻改变了人类的认知方式。卡尔解释说,我们所依赖的数字装备已经开始重写我们的大脑。
Humans like to believe they control the tools they use, even if Socrates, Marshall McLuhan and Ivan Illich are among those who have argued that often they do not. From the alphabet to clocks and printing, every major new technology has profoundly altered the way in which humans think. The digital gadgets on which we now depend, Mr Carr explains, have already begun rewiring our brains.
神经学研究已经打破了大脑静止不变的谜团。作为对于诸如上网之类的新事物的回应,神经网络可以迅速地进行自我重组。卡尔调查了关于“超媒体”——点击、跳读、浏览——的现有知识,看它如何影响思维,尤其是在脑部的运作和深层记忆方面。他得出一些令人脊背发凉的推论。他说,有证据表明,数字科技已经开始毁坏长期记忆的稳固性,而它正是真正的智慧的基础。
Neurological research has demolished the myth of the static brain. Neural networks can be rapidly reorganised in response to new experiences such as going on the web. Mr Carr surveys current knowledge about the effects on thinking of “hypermedia”—in particular clicking, skipping, skimming—and especially on working and deep memory. He draws some chilling inferences. There is evidence, he says, that digital technology is already damaging the long-term memory consolidation that is the basis for true intelligence.
只有结合储存在大脑深处的数据,我们才能形成新的想法。搜集破烂式的信息获取方式绝对无法替代这种缓慢而综合的创造过程。超链接和过度刺激意味着大脑必须把大部分注意力集中在短期的决定上。只有很少一部分勉强进入更深的层次接受处理。卡尔声称,很明显,这是对1000多年以来人类标志性的“文明头脑”的彻底颠覆。人类社会正在发生转变,原先看重个体独特的知识创造,现在人类的社会头脑对速度和群体认可的重视超过了原创能力和创造性。
Only by combining data stored deep within our brains can we forge new ideas. No amount of magpie assemblage can compensate for this slow, synthetic creativity. Hyperlinks and overstimulation mean the brain must give most of its attention to short-term decisions. Little makes it through the fragile transfer into deeper processing. Clearly, argues Mr Carr, this is a radical upending of the “literate mind” that has been the hallmark of civilisation for more than 1,000 years. From a society that valued the creation of a unique storehouse of ideas in each individual, man is moving to a socially constructed mind that values speed and group approval over originality and creativity.
没错,网络也带来一些积极的补偿:更好的手眼协调,模式识别能力,以及机器所需的多任务处理技术。持怀疑态度的人会严正指出,每一种科技都伴随着同样的担忧。凡事总会有得有失。一些持进化论观点的生物学家声称,学术的头脑是历史的怪胎:人类和其他灵长类动物一样,生来就该具备迅速观察到危险和机会的能力。如果确实如此,那么网络就在不遗余力地孕育出这种肤浅而分散的头脑。
True, there are compensations: better hand-eye co-ordination, pattern recognition and the very multitasking skills the machines themselves require. Sceptics will rightly point out that similar concerns have accompanied each new technology. Something is always lost, and something gained. Some evolutionary biologists claim that the scholarly mind is an historical anomaly: that humans, like other primates, are designed to scan rapidly for danger and opportunity. If so, the net delivers this shallow, scattered mindset with a vengeance.
卡尔几乎没有提供应对之策。作者本人就是躲在没有电源插头的深山里完成了他的新书,他认为大多数人太多地依赖于网络来工作和娱乐。他没有将互联网和毒品相提并论。其他批评家更为深层地研究了这个话题。虚拟现实的开拓者杰伦·拉尼尔值得引起我们注意,他在自己的新书《你不是机器》里面对此进行了讨论。不过可以肯定的是,网络狂欢和吃甜食过度并无差别:补救之法就是传统的自我节制。
Mr Carr offers few prescriptions. The author himself retreated to an (unplugged) mountain hideout to write his book, but he thinks most people depend too much on the net for work and fun to do the same. And he fails to address the ways in which the internet acts like a drug. Other critics have probed this issue more deeply, notably Jaron Lanier, a virtual-reality pioneer, in a recent book, “You Are Not a Gadget”. Yet surely online bingeing is no different from eating too many sweets: its remedy is a matter of old-fashioned self-restraint.
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2010-07-05 09:34 编辑:kuaileyingyu
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