Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Internet and Our Minds

Spark recently featured a great interview with Nicolas Carr, which discuses his new book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Carr is well known for his 2008 article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", which examined the impact of Google, hyperlinks, and the internet in general, on how we process information.

Carr's new book continues to discuss the changes to how we process information. He argues that the changes in our methods of processing information, is in part due to neurophysiology. Our brains automatically strengthen the habits which we frequently use, while less commonly used processes are forgotten or weakened. Thus, given the onslaught continuous of information, it is hardly surprising that our ability to concentrate on a single item at a time has decreased.

Additionally, Carr also highlights the rise of the 'real-time web' and our growing craving for immediacy and new information. We crave new information, regardless of how trivial it is. How many times have you glanced at a twitter API or your RSS feed while doing other work? The information your receiving via twitter usually isn't life altering, but it is new and that's something which humans tend to be drawn to.

The real-time web environment has also contributed to the mentality that unless we see and use information immediately, it is no longer relevant or useful. There is so much information out there, that older information is often discarded as useless. Information has become like a child's toy. The toy is great when it's brand new and shinny, but it's quickly forgotten when another new toy is discovered. The historian in me cringes at this thought, the newness of information is should not determine its validity. Validity should be based upon the quality and the source of the information.

Despite this, I admit to being a bit of an information addict. I feel out of sync with the world if I haven't checked my RSS feed or TweetDeck. Sometimes the appeal of the new is just too hard to resist. Is this information addiction a bad thing? I'm not entirely sure. I'm still able to sit down and give my undivided attention to a book. However, if I want to accomplish anything using a computer disconnecting from the internet does marvels for my productivity. Perhaps this multitasking mode of thinking isn't better or worse than how our minds use to think, just different or evolved.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Government Apologies and Collective Memory

The past couple of weeks have been filled with government apologies for historical wrongs. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Air India, and Bloody Sunday Inquiry have all been prominent in the news recently.

What significance do public apologies for historic wrongs have? Government apologies have the potential to remind the general public of events long past. It is unlikely that people directly impacted by Bloody Sunday or the residential school system are going to forget the horror of these events. However, people not alive during these events or who have not felt the repercussion of them can easily forget the past. Public apologies, inquires, and general discussion about past wrongs bring events back into public view and help raise awareness regarding atrocities and past mistakes. For years, the issue of residential schools was glossed over in public schools. In recent years a movement towards acknowledgment of past wrongs has contributed to an increase in educating Canadians at large about this moment in our past.

However, apologies are often about controlling the collective memory of a particular event. Apologies for historic wrongs are often politically motivated and can be seen as a step towards reconciliation. Apologies add another dimension to the history of a particular events. It allows the government to be seen as taking proactive action against the past.

Is an apology sufficient when an entire community was wronged? Of course not. Is it a step in the right direction to addressing the problem? Perhaps. They can be a starting point for reconciliation but apologies need to be accompanied by actual action.

For another look at government sponsored apologies see Laura Madokoro's post "Giving Voice To History" on

Friday, June 4, 2010

Canadian Copyright Reform

Early this week Industry Canada Minister Tony Clement announced a 64-page bill to the House of Commons. Bill C-32 is a proposal to admen current current Canadian copyright legislation. The shortened title of the bill is "the Copyright Modernization Act." The bill attempts to address to copyright in an increasingly digital world and the full bill can be seen online here.

The tabling of this bill coincided with the release of a government website entitled "Balanced Copyright." This site breaks down the bill into more manageable sections and provides a good overview for anyone without a legal background looking to understand what this bill potentially means.

Canadian Copyright legislation does need to be updated to reflect the rise of born digital content and the sharing of information virtually. However, any new legislation needs to encourage fair use and consumer rights need to be taken into consideration. The new bill has taken some measures towards improving consumer rights, eg. it would no longer be illegal to copy music from most purchased CDs to an ipod. Despite some improvements to a similar bill proposed in 2008, there is still a tremendous amount of gray area in the bill and content needs to be included which reflects new and evolving born digital mediums.

Views on the proposed bill can be seen here, here, and here.