As some of you may have noticed from my posts, I’ve had an innate fascination for linguistics all of my life. While it is not a field that I have ever pursued formally, it is something that has sort of “leaked” through every aspect of my work, research, thinking, etc. With that said, I am a huge fan of Maryanne Wolf’s (Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University) work. In her book “Proust and the Squid,” Wolf recounts the history of how humans learned to read from the time of the Sumerians to Socrates, and how we generally acquire the ability to read from birth to age five. Of particular interest to me (perhaps because of its relevance to technology) is her application of current neurological research and knowledge to the reading brain and learning disabilities, including dyslexia.
I was reminded of her work last Sunday, when the television news magazine, 60 Minutes, featured a story on how Apple’s iPad was being used my autistic children to develop cognitive skills their caretakers and parents never thought they possessed. What was even more amazing than seeing the children connect with the technology (and communicate in their own way through it), was Temple Grandin’s interview on how she, herself, coped with autism and how she is helping autism research by letting scientists study her brain. If you are not familiar with Temple Grandin and her work, please look her up – she is an amazing person on so many levels.
Going back to the issue at hand, how do you think technology is impacting (both positively and negatively) cognitive development in children? The theory of “digital natives” has been thrown around for a while now, positing that children that have grown up with advanced digital technologies have physically different wiring than those who have not. Such a theory would insinuate that the natural plasticity of the brain has evolved to adapt to rapidly changing means of instant information retrieval and access, distributed knowledge bases, and an unprecedented level of connectivity between individuals mediated not face-to-face, but through an interface. If the interface disappears, as it is projected to, and technology becomes increasingly embodied, how will our cognitive structures adapt? What is the role of language in all of this? Does language define us as humans? Will language, as we know it, ever become obsolete? Just a few questions to ponder 🙂