Sunday, July 12, 2015

The importance of the affordance

"Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system." Image via.
Just some outtakes to yesterday's Pancake People tour of Friday's David Brooks column:
Research at the University of Oslo and elsewhere suggests that people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more linear, more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for keywords.
I can't get over the picture of some teenager flipping through a book in his lap, frowning, "Where the fuck are the keywords in this thing?" "Browsing for keywords" is presumably a description of something Brooks does, when he's casting about for quotations in mid-column; he didn't get the expression from his source.

Susan Greenfield at a relatively early point in her new book:

Susan Greenfield at a relatively late point in the same book:

Tell us the truth, Baroness, is it really "will not necessarily help" or "could well be a link"? Would it be a hyperlink, thus bringing the keyword browse back into the picture? What's the "importance of the affordance" when it's at home? Also, did you have an editor?

Note how Brooks's "at the University of Oslo and elsewhere" seems to mean "wherever Anne Mangen is teaching" (she apparently hopes to win the Guinness citation for experiment most frequently performed by a single researcher in different schools in Norway; she's now at the University of Stavanger).

Greenfield also cited Nicholas Carr, fan of Richard Foreman's cathedrals-vs.-pancakes trope, on the subject of multitasking:

So it's pretty clear we're talking about one big research family here. A Guardian review of Mind Change—
Mind Change: Susan Greenfield has a big idea, but what is it?
A poorly researched diatribe on the ‘youth of today’, Susan Greenfield’s exploration of Mind Change reads like a Littlejohn column wrapped in the trappings of science
—makes her sound a little like David Brooks, matter of fact, with similar memory problems:
The Lords have met to hold a debate on the use of social networking sites by children, and the adequacy of safeguards to protect their privacy and interests. As Harris concludes his opening remarks, the Baroness of Ot Moor, Susan Greenfield, rises to her feet to make a statement. There are two different accounts of what happens next.
The first appears in the opening pages of Baroness Greenfield’s new book, Mind Change. One of few scientists to hold a seat in the upper house of Parliament, she tells us that she “decided to present a perspective through the prism of neuroscience,” explaining to the assembled peers, “firstly, the human brain adapts to the environment; secondly, the environment is changing in an unprecedented way; so thirdly, the brain may also be changing in an unprecedented way.”
So that's what she remembered telling the Lords.
Greenfield claims to find the controversy that followed inexplicable: “The reaction by the international print and broadcast media to this seemingly bland and logical statement was out of all proportion to its content. Needless to say, I had to endure the inevitable press misrepresentation resulting from a priority of selling copy over actual truth: ‘Baroness says computers rot the brain’ was just one of the more lurid headline-grabbing efforts of one sub-editor.”
Then there's what she actually told them, according to the public record:
The second version comes from Hansard’s official record of what was spoken in the House of Lords that day. “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,” the Baroness explained. Answering her own question, “what might now be in jeopardy?” she listed attention spans, the ability to delay gratification, and empathy. “The mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.”
I love, incidentally, how Brooks used to believe these problems were caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (like sexual abuse, poverty, and divorce) and now thinks they're caused by multitasking and checking your Twitter feed too often.

Richard Littlejohn, FYI, is the Daily Mail columnist—imagine an English Bill O'Reilly—celebrated for his many grievous insults, unsupported factoids, homophobic explosions, and repeating a 16-year-old rumor with no foundation in fact,
that Haringey Council was using taxpayer funds for hopscotch lessons for Asian women. This was an urban myth first propagated by the former Conservative Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney in 1995, who took the name of the Hopscotch Asian Women's Centre literally. In fact, the centre offers "support services for Asian women and their families on a wide range of issues including domestic violencebenefits, housing, education, immigration and health matters [and provided] advocacy and support to people with learning disabilities". 
There I go browsing for keywords again.

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