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Regents Exam in ELA — Jan. ’20 Part 2: Argument

Author: Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York

Part 2


Directions: Closely read each of the four texts provided on pages 13 through 20 and write a source-based argument on the topic below. You may use the margins to take notes as you read and scrap paper to plan your response. Write your argument beginning on page 1 of your essay booklet.

Topic: Does the Internet have a negative impact on our thinking process?

Your Task: Carefully read each of the four texts provided. Then, using evidence from at least three of the texts, write a well-developed argument regarding whether or not the Internet has a negative impact on our thinking process. Clearly establish your claim, distinguish your claim from alternate or opposing claims, and use specific, relevant, and sufficient evidence from at least three of the texts to develop your argument. Do not simply summarize each text.


Be sure to:

  • Establish your claim regarding whether or not the Internet has a negative impact on our thinking process • Distinguish your claim from alternate or opposing claims
  • Use specific, relevant, and sufficient evidence from at least three of the texts to develop your argument • Identify each source that you reference by text number and line number(s) or graphic (for example: Text 1, line 4 or Text 2, graphic)
  • Organize your ideas in a cohesive and coherent manner • Maintain a formal style of writing
  • Follow the conventions of standard written English

Text 1 – OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?
Text 2 – Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains
Text 3 – The Memex in Your Pocket
Text 4 – Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically?

Text 1

OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

“What they would do is they would start Googling the question, ‘How does a novel represent humanity?’ ” Heick says. “That was a real eye-opener to me.” …

Heick had intended for his students to take a moment to think, figure out what type of information they needed, how to evaluate the data and how to reconcile conflicting viewpoints. He did not intend for them to immediately Google the question, word by word — eliminating the process of critical thinking.

More Space To Think Or Less Time To Think?

There is a relative lack of research available examining the effect of search engines on our brains even as the technology is rapidly dominating our lives. Of the studies available, the answers are sometimes unclear.

Some argue that with easy access to information, we have more space in our brain to engage in creative activities, as humans have in the past. …

Daphne Bavelier, a professor at the University of Geneva, wrote in 2011 that we may have lost the ability for oral memorization valued by the Greeks when writing was invented, but we gained additional skills of reading and text analysis.

Writer Nicholas Carr contends that the Internet will take away our ability for contemplation due to the plasticity of our brains. He wrote about the subject in a 2008 article for The Atlantic titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid.”

“…what the [Internet] seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” Carr wrote. …

‘I’m Always On My Computer

Michele Nelson, an art teacher at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C., seems to share Carr’s concerns. Nelson, who has been teaching for more than nine years, says it was obvious with her middle school students and even her 15-year-old daughter that they are unable to read long texts anymore.

“They just had a really hard time comprehending if they went to a website that had a lot of information,” Nelson says. “They couldn’t grasp it, they couldn’t figure out what the important thing was.” …

The bright side lies in a 2009 study conducted by Gary Small, the director of University of California Los Angeles’ Longevity Center, that explored brain activity when older adults used search engines. He found that among older people who have experience using the Internet, their brains are two times more active than those who don’t when conducting Internet searches. …

For Small, the problem for younger people is the overuse of the technology that leads to distraction. Otherwise, he is excited for the new innovations in technology.

“We tend to be economical in terms of how we use our brain, so if you know you don’t have to memorize the directions to a certain place because you have a GPS in your car, you’re not going to bother with that,” Small says. “You’re going to use your mind to remember other kinds of information.” …

—Zhai Yun Tan excerpted from “OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?”, February 5, 2016

Text 2

Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

…What kind of brain is the Web giving us? That question will no doubt be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise—and the news is quite disturbing. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory (or incomplete) reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain. …

The depth of our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory, the scratch pad of consciousness, to long-term memory, the mind’s filing system.

When facts and experiences enter our long-term memory, we are able to weave them into the complex ideas that give richness to our thought. But the passage from working memory to long-term memory also forms a bottleneck in our brain. Whereas long-term memory has an almost unlimited capacity, working memory can hold only a relatively small amount of information at a time. And that short-term storage is fragile: A break in our attention can sweep its contents from our mind.

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in moving information from working memory into long-term memory. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by varying the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer much of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of knowledge and wisdom.

On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent (logical) stream.

Psychologists refer to the information flowing into our working memory as our cognitive load. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories. We can’t translate the new material into conceptual knowledge. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains weak. That’s why the extensive brain activity that [Gary] Small discovered in Web searchers may be more a cause for concern than for celebration. It points to cognitive overload. …

The penalty is amplified by what brain scientists call switching costs. Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources. Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding (disrupting) our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information. On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher.

The Net’s ability to monitor events and send out messages and notifications automatically is, of course, one of its great strengths as a communication technology. We rely on that capability to personalize the workings of the system, to program the vast database to respond to our particular needs, interests, and desires. We want to be interrupted, because each interruption—email, tweet, instant message, RSS [Really Simple Syndication] (news notification system) headline— brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated. The stream of new information also plays to our natural tendency to overemphasize the immediate. We crave the new even when we know it’s trivial. …

We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses (parts of the nervous system that pass electrical or chemical signals) change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to reorganize itself). That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply. …

There’s nothing wrong with absorbing information quickly and in bits and pieces. We’ve always skimmed newspapers more than we’ve read them, and we routinely run our eyes over books and magazines to get the gist of a piece of writing and decide whether it warrants more thorough reading. The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by

6he Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture. …

—Nicholas Carr excerpted and adapted from “Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains”, June 2010

Text 3

The Memex in Your Pocket

…The idea that we could invent tools that change our cognitive (the process of knowing and preceiving) abilities might sound outlandish, but it’s actually a defining feature of human evolution. When our ancestors developed language, it altered not only how they could communicate but how they could think. Mathematics, the printing press, and science further extended the reach of the human mind, and by the 20th century, tools such as telephones, calculators, and Encyclopedia Britannica gave people easy access to more knowledge about the world than they could absorb in a lifetime.

Yet it would be a stretch to say that this information was part of people’s minds. There remained a real distinction between what we knew and what we could find out if we cared to.

The Internet and mobile technology have begun to change that. Many of us now carry our smartphones with us everywhere, and high-speed data networks blanket the developed world. If I asked you the capital of Angola, it would hardly matter anymore whether you knew it off the top of your head. Pull out your phone and repeat the question using Google

Voice Search, and a mechanized voice will shoot back, “Luanda.” When it comes to trivia, the difference between a world-class savant (scholar) and your average modern technophile (a person enthusiastic about technology) is perhaps five seconds. And Watson’s Jeopardy! triumph over Ken Jenning (the 74-time Jeopardy game show champion, defeated by IBM’s super computer, Watson, in 2004) suggests even that time lag might soon be erased—especially as wearable technology like Google Glass (smart glasses) begins to collapse the distance between our minds and the cloud.

So is the Internet now essentially an external hard drive for our brains? That’s the essence 20 of an idea called “the extended mind,” first propounded by philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers in 1998. The theory was a novel response to philosophy’s long-standing “mind-brain problem,” which asks whether our minds are reducible to the biology of our brains. Clark and Chalmers proposed that the modern human mind is a system that transcends (surpasses) the brain to encompass aspects of the outside environment. They argued that certain technological tools—computer modeling, navigation by slide rule (a mechanical device used for computations) long division via pencil and paper—can be every bit as integral to our mental operations as the internal workings of our brains. They wrote: “If, as we confront some task, a part of the world functions as a process which, were it done in the head, we would have no hesitation in recognizing as part of the cognitive process, then that part of the world is (so we claim) part of the cognitive process.” …

The basic Google search, which has become our central means of retrieving published information about the world—is only the most obvious example. Personal-assistant tools like Apple’s Siri instantly retrieve information such as phone numbers and directions that we once had to memorize or commit to paper. Potentially even more powerful as memory aids are cloud-based note-taking apps like Evernote, whose slogan is, “Remember everything.”

So here’s a second pop quiz. Where were you on the night of Feb. 8, 2010? What are the names and email addresses of all the people you know who currently live in New York City? What’s the exact recipe for your favorite homemade pastry?

Our own brains are brilliant at storing and retrieving information that’s viscerally (instinctively) important to us, like the smile of someone we love or the smell of a food that made us sick, explains Maureen Ritchey, a postdoctoral researcher at U.C.–Davis who specializes in the neuroscience (science that deals with the nervous system and brain) of memory. But they’re prone to bungle abstract details like the title of a book we wanted to read or the errand we were supposed to run on the way home from work. …

So where were you on that February night three years ago? If you use a modern email 45 program like Gmail, there’s a good chance you can piece it together by calling up your emails from that date. Which of your friends could you crash with or call up for a drink when you visit New York this summer? That’s what Facebook’s new Graph Search is for. See? Your memory is better than you think. …

There are also, of course, pitfalls to having devices that are smart and powerful enough 50 to aid our minds in all sorts of ways.

One is the fear that the same Internet that makes us smarter in relatively superficial ways may also be making us stupid on a deeper level. The writer Nicholas Carr worries that the information age is leading inexorably (without yielding to an age of ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder]—that a parade of tweets and hyperlinks is training our brains to expect constant stimulation and thus rendering us incapable of reading a book, let alone sustaining the type of profound contemplation that leads to real wisdom.

There may be some truth in that, though brain scans suggest that searching Google actually stimulates more parts of the brain than reading a book. And it’s worth keeping in mind Carr’s own observation that Socrates (Greek philosopher} once bemoaned the rise of the written word on similar grounds. Similarly, 15th -century techno-skeptics fretted that the printing press would weaken people’s minds.

Chalmers points out that this type of reasoning depends on the notion that the human mind is coterminous (having the same boundaries) with the brain. Sure, the rise of literature probably eroded our brain’s capacity to remember epic poems verse by verse. Long before that, Chalmers says, the advent of oral language might well have reshaped our cortexes to the detriment [of] some primitive sensory capacities or modes of introspection (self-analysis) “Maybe the Nicholas Carr of the day said, ‘Hey, language is making us stupider,’ ” Chalmers jokes. …

—Will Oremus excerpted and adapted from “The Memex In Your Pocket”, March 7, 2013

Text 4

Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically?

…Although there’s little debate that computer technology complements—and often enhances—the human mind in the quest to store information and process an ever-growing tangle of bits and bytes, there’s increasing concern that the same technology is changing the way we approach complex problems and conundrums (riddles), and making it more difficult to really think.

“We’re exposed to [greater amounts of] poor yet charismatic thinking, the fads of intellectual fashion, opinion, and mere assertion,” says [researcher and lecturer, Adrian] West. “The wealth of communications and information can easily overwhelm our reasoning abilities.” What’s more, it’s ironic that ever-growing piles of data and information do not equate to greater knowledge and better decision-making. What’s remarkable, West says, is just “how little this has affected the quality of our thinking.” …

Arriving at a clear definition for critical thinking is a bit tricky. Wikipedia describes it as “purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do in response to observations, experience, verbal or written expressions, or arguments.” Overlay technology and that’s where things get complex. “We can do the same critical-reasoning operations without technology as we can with it—just at different speeds and with different ease,” West says.

What’s more, while it’s tempting to view computers, video games, and the Internet in a monolithic (singularly) good or bad way, the reality is that they may be both good and bad, and different technologies, systems, and uses yield entirely different results. For example, a computer game may promote critical thinking or diminish it. Reading on the Internet may ratchet up one’s ability to analyze while chasing an endless array of hyperlinks may undercut deeper thought.

Michael Bugeja, director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, says: “Critical thinking can be accelerated multifold by the right technology.” On the other hand, “The technology distraction level is accelerating to the point where thinking deeply is difficult. We are overwhelmed by a constant barrage (overwhelming quantity) of devices and tasks.” Worse: “We increasingly suffer from the Google syndrome. People accept what they read and believe what they see online is fact when it is not.”

One person who has studied the effects of technology on people is UCLA’s [Patricia] Greenfield. Exposure to technology fundamentally changes the way people think, says Greenfield, who recently analyzed more than 50 studies on learning and technology, including research on multitasking and the use of computers, the Internet, and video games. As reading for pleasure has declined and visual media have exploded, noticeable changes have resulted, she notes.

“Reading enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not,” Greenfield explains. “It develops imagination, induction (the process of creating a general rule from specific examples), reflection, and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary.” However, she has found that visual media actually improve some types of information processing. Unfortunately, “most visual media are real-time media that do not allow time for reflection, analysis, or imagination,” she says. The upshot? Many people—particularly those who are younger— wind up not realizing their full intellectual potential. …

—Samuel Greengard excerpted and adapted from “Are We Losing Our Ability to Think Critically?”, July 2009

DMU Timestamp: November 12, 2020 20:50

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