Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Mind bending Public Relations

You are what you search.

Perhaps this is the simplest way of  describing recent findings into the the short and long term effects of the internet on humans.

"Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains"  was the headline to an article by Nicholas G. Carr, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and which sparked off a  debate championed by sections of the press expressing views that the internet was dumbing mankind down to the point of imbecilic infancy.

But now we have facts. Peter S. Eriksson, Ekaterina Perfilieva, Thomas Björk-Eriksson, Ann-Marie Alborn, Claes Nordborg, Daniel A. Peterson and Fred H. Gage demonstrated that cell genesis occurs in human brains and that the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life. That the brain can and does change is not news said neuroscientist  Michael Merzenich in a recent TED talk.  “Everything you do changes your brain,” says Daphne Bavelier, associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. “When reading was invented, it also made huge changes to the kind of thinking we do and carried changes to the visual system.” Gary Small and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles used fMRI to study observed brain activation of subjects interacting with a simulated search engine.  Small and his colleagues asked Google rookies to go home and train by searching the internet for an hour a day for five days. When the test subjects came back and were rescanned, the researchers found that the net-naive had already increased activation in the frontal areas where they had previously lagged behind the net-savvy.

Use of the internet, it seems, changes our brains.

Have we evidence in our own experience? We have all done it... can't remember a fact - Google it! The big 'know-it-all' in the pub is no longer the bore in the corner, its the person who can type faster on their mobile. 

It can be extrapolated that the way we use the internet has a cultural effect on us.

It is now worth considering whether some people have a Facebook culture or a Google Plus culture. Is there a World of Warcraft culture? What is the difference in cultures (opinions, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours) between nations able to use Google Search and not being able to use it. Are such cultures hard wired into how we think and behave or do they have a different, brain changed, view of the world.

The evidence is beginning to mount that is already the case.

This has far reaching implications for public relations. In the sphere of consumer PR there may be a case for considering different platforms, channels and approaches as between different digital cultures. In Public Affairs it may mean that divergence in ideologies is so extreme as to presage international rifts and even, in extremis, culturally divisive understanding as dangerous as Nazism, Soviet Communism or worse.

That there are effects and that they are different as between different users of differing technologies is not in question. The extent to which this is an issue for day to day PR and our understanding of relationships is a matter for future research.

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