Scary stuff... although I'm not sure *all* of this qualifies as
> "Some of our participants actually refused to go home after
> several hours of Internet access and/or spending time with a
> high-definition TV," writes one of the study's technicians,
> "we were even forced to physically restrain one participant,
> a young man, after he stumbled across both a pornographic
> satellite TV channel and a Web site dedicated to instant
> sports scores within the same testing session."
* * *
22 May 1997| _BACK TO THE WIRE INDEX_
STTF World Wide Wire Services(
DATELINE--The Research Triangle, N.C.
Medical Studies Link Computer to Illiteracy
The Journal for Applied Medicine & Technology released a report
earlier this week which suggests that a recent increase in computer
use has led to a dramatic decline in literacy among adult Americans.
Entitled "A Qualitative Analysis of Computer Use and User
Literacy," the already controversial study was a collaboration among
several universities and anonymous test subjects drawn from
America's best-known corporations. Over the course of three years,
researchers in eight different cities tracked the reading habits and
literacy skills of over 5,000 professionals who use computers in
the workplace or at home.
The researchers claim to have found what they call "unambiguous"
and "compelling" evidence that a decrease in reading comprehension
and related cognitive skills closely followed any increase, no
matter how slight, in the use of personal computers.
Wisconsin State University professor Dr. Ruhig Hurmes is one of the
study's lead researchers. Hurmes believes that the main factor
behind this negative correlation can be found in the "nature of the
computer, itself" which, he believes, "discourages readers from
spending any serious length of time with a difficult
task...especially if a solution or a simpler problem can be reached
by merely clicking on a graphic." Dr. Hurmes also points to the
rising popularity of celebrity news programs, infomercials, computer
magazines, and the Nick at Nite cable network as major factors
contributing to the decline in America's reading skills.
"Let's face it, if the choice is between spending 5 seconds with a
info-bite or 30 minutes with a thought-provoking essay, what would
the average American choose?"
Professor Hurmes went on to answer his question with an exhaustive
series of charts outlining the choices of his real-life test
subjects. According to the results of the Computer Use & User
Literacy study, nearly 92% of professionals working within a
computer environment repeatedly opted for the 5 second info-bite
while only 5% of those polled chose to spend time with the headier
essay. An additional 3% failed to distinguish the one from the other
and asked shortly thereafter to be excused from the test.
The study goes on to state that among the 92% of Americans who
chose the info-bite, almost 78% of them preferred their information
exclusively in the form of images, while another 15% percent
expressed a preference for some combination of image and text. Only
7% of the info-bite crowd chose a strictly textual format for their
5 second data feeds.
The facilities used to conduct the Computer Use & User Literacy
study were set up to mimic real world scenarios. Subjects spent half
of the test in an artificial living room with a couch and the other
half in an office cubicle with a captain's chair. In addition to
the simulated decor, scientists provided the test subjects with a
television monitor in the first scenario and a computer terminal in
the second. Finally, the study's participants were offered printed
matter at regular intervals during the testing procedure. The
printed matter ranged from magazines without color illustrations or
color photographs to independently produced news, commentary and
historical analysis periodicals.
In only a handful of cases did test subjects actually let go of the
computer's mouse or the television remote control long enough to
pick up one of the readily available printed materials. In fact,
many subjects could not even recognize what the printed materials
were due to the fast-paced and psychologically-intensive nature of
their computer use.
"Some of our participants actually refused to go home after several
hours of Internet access and/or spending time with a
high-definition TV," writes one of the study's technicians, "we were
even forced to physically restrain one participant, a young man,
after he stumbled across both a pornographic satellite TV channel
and a Web site dedicated to instant sports scores within the same
Critics of the study have a very different take on the published
results. Just hours after the Journal for Applied Medicine &
Technology hit the newsstands, computer industry representatives
charged that the researchers had "stacked the deck" against their
products by providing "cutting-edge Internet services" and
"unavailable television technology" to unsuspecting test subjects.
The study's detractors also claim that if the test participants had
been primed for the enhanced information they received during the
course of the study, no significant behavioral changes would have
come to the researchers' attention.
Dr. Hurmes dismisses such criticisms as irrelevant and misleading.
"The real proof," he adds, "is in our algometric scores. Not one
subject complained of physical discomfort during hours of repetitive
and uninformative computer use--that's a shocking omission
considering that we set up the testing environments to produce
maximum distress in almost all subjects."
For their next study, Dr. Hurmes and his colleagues will test the
"moral thermometer" of computer users. It is uncertain what the
doctors will find when they venture into the realm of morality and
social responsibility, but one thing is for certain: their next
study is guaranteed to generate a controversy of like proportions.