In January, we featured series of short animations from BBC Radio 4 addressing the question “How Did Everything Begin?” In February, we featured its follow-up on an equally eternal question, “What Makes Us Human?” Both came scripted by Philosophy Bites co-creator Nigel Warburton and narrated by X-Files co-star Gillian Anderson (in full British mode). Now that March has come, so has the next installment of these brief, crisp, curiosity-fueled productions: “Has Technology Changed Us?”
In a word: yes. But then, everything we do has always changed us, thanks to the property of the brain we now call “plasticity.” This we learn from the video, “Rewiring the Brain” (right below), which, balancing its heartening neuroscientific evidence with the proverbial old dog’s ability to learn new tricks, also tells of the “attention disorders, screen addictions, and poor social skills” that may have already begun plaguing the younger generation.
Marshall McLuhan, of course, could have foreseen all this. Hence his appearance in “The Medium is the Message” (top), a title taken from the University of Toronto English professor turned communication-theory guru’s famous dictum. The video actually spells out McLuhan’s own explanation of that much-quoted line: “What has been communicated has been less important than the particular medium through which people communicate.” Whether you buy that notion or not, the whole range of proclamations McLuhan had on the subject will certainly get you thinking — in his own words, “You don’t like these ideas? I got others.”
The other two videos in this series, despite their short length, get into other intriguing related concepts: “The Fourth Revolution” that comes as a result of life in a “mass age of information and data,” and the workings of “The Antikythera Mechanism,” the first computer ever built. Our personal technology has certainly come a long way, but we shouldn’t fall into complacency about it, lest, as Anderson says in this series, it all wrecks our attention spans and “education will all have to be delivered in two-minute animations.”
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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.