NO: THERE IS NO IMPENDING SINGULARITY
There is a tendency to consider computer technology as potentially impacting the function and thus even the structure of our brain. The temptation to see qualitative effects rather than mere quantitative ones is due to the idea that computers are more like brains than other advanced technology. Though the illusion of computers actually thinking, and having experiences follows from the logic rich applications they perform, we do not perceive ourselves interacting with computers any more so than perceiving a phone conversation as an interaction with a phone.
Does interacting with others via the web effect neuroplasticity? Yes, all learning causes structural change somewhere in the brain. But, so does every perception, we experience. If one is referring to a quantitative difference in change, then I absolutely agree. Qualitatively, I do not believe interacting with the web will alter brain activity more so than any activity performed for many hours a day.
In other words, neuroplasticity is not tapped into to a greater degree by the computer and its “aps” than it is by telephone, television, music, and contemplative thought, or even deep probing thought.
Yes, neuroplasticity applies to web use, but not in any fundamentally different manner as “futurologists” fear or anticipate. The “coming singularity” does not impress me. I do not expect to see our minds spread over various artificial interfaces anytime soon.
The amount of time consumed in shallow tapping of letters and “emoticons” back and forth, merely diverts many people who would otherwise be watching Reality TV shows. So much of interpersonal time is “shared” in watching TV, that e-relationships may actually be deeper, than “live” in-the-flesh meeting.
Consider how only perhaps four generations ago in some areas, and some families, darkness meant the end of activity. Quiet was the norm. The fear of awkward lapses of conversation was not present. Silence was the default, not the enemy. Families might sit in the common room, perhaps one reading under the oil lamp, or candle, one quietly sitting on a sofa knitting, perhaps one at a desk with candle writing a letter from which an instant reply was not expected, and the reader’s attention for perhaps several pages and a multitude of paragraphs was assumed.
This quietude, which was the norm for most of human history, has been shattered in the twentieth century. The magnitude of change between the rural, non-electrified life one may have grown up in, and the urban electric powered lights and nocturnal activity in which he/she raised their children in was greater and more profound than the mere addition of computers to the list of armaments of the war on quiet.