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Are iPads, smartphones, and the Mobile Web rewiring the way we think?

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But it seemed to have the opposite effect on Wade: "I sort of learned the magnitude of how [technology] helps me." Not carrying a phone was a factor in his getting lost on his own in downtown San Francisco, near where he lives, an experience that troubled him.

Wade is a "digital native" whose world – half in cyberspace, half on terra firma – is breeding what might be called a new species of thinkers. The early 21st century may be a watershed moment in how humans learn and communicate, a change perhaps not equaled since the invention of the printing press nearly six centuries ago.

Today's technology may be determining not just how we spend our time: It actually may be "rewiring" the way we think, how we experience the world around us.

Techno-Cassandras fret over what's happening to our attention spans, our ability to think and read deeply, to enjoy time with our own thoughts or a good book.

Techno-enthusiasts scoff that those concerns are nothing new: Socrates, it's pointed out, thought that writing itself would harm a person's ability to internalize learning, the printed word acting as a substitute for true understanding. Technologies such as printing, and in recent decades television and the pocket calculator, have all served time as villains only to become innocuous, commonplace parts of modern life. Why should helpful new technologies from Facebook and Twitter to iPhones and laptops be any different?

Those caught in the middle are aware that something significant is happening, but wary about whether they or others are grasping the big picture. Is technology making us dumb and distracted or turning us into expert information finders and magnificent multitaskers? Is being connected online 24/7 good or bad? Is there even a good way to tell?

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