Conditionality Bad Card

Tim Alderete from The Meadows emailed me a card one of his ex debaters cut about education and conditionality (below the fold). I saw this article linked on the dish a few days ago and it seemed to be very debate useful but I didn’t put this particular spin on it. I don’t see a lot of teams read cards on theory arguments, and many judges think it is foolish. Personally I think it is a pretty good strategy, particularly if you are making a big shift in the 1AR to dedicate a lot of time to theory. Judges can call for cards, most won’t call for theory blocks. So in addition to getting some expert opinion into the debate, you give the judge something they can call for and look at after the round. People often don’t realize how important something like that can be to help clarify a rapid fire theory debate.

Considering multiple issues in rapid succession prevents longterm acquisition of information, harms critical thinking, and turns multitasking

Nicholas Carr, 6/5/10 [Nicholas Carr is the author, most recently, of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?”,’s_Most_Popular]

The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best 2,000 years ago: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” Today, the Internet grants us easy access to unprecedented amounts of information. But a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

The picture emerging from the research is deeply troubling, at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought. People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read traditional linear text. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, alerts and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.

The common thread in these disabilities is the division of attention. The richness of our thoughts, our memories and even our personalities hinges on our ability to focus the mind and sustain concentration. Only when we pay deep attention to a new piece of information are we able to associate it “meaningfully and systematically with knowledge already well established in memory,” writes the Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel. Such associations are essential to mastering complex concepts.

When we’re constantly distracted and interrupted, as we tend to be online, our brains are unable to forge the strong and expansive neural connections that give depth and distinctiveness to our thinking. We become mere signal-processing units, quickly shepherding disjointed bits of information into and then out of short-term memory. In an article published in Science last year, Patricia Greenfield, a leading developmental psychologist, reviewed dozens of studies on how different media technologies influence our cognitive abilities. Some of the studies indicated that certain computer tasks, like playing video games, can enhance “visual literacy skills,” increasing the speed at which people can shift their focus among icons and other images on screens. Other studies, however, found that such rapid shifts in focus, even if performed adeptly, result in less rigorous and “more automatic” thinking. In one experiment conducted at Cornell University, for example, half a class of students was allowed to use Internet-connected laptops during a lecture, while the other had to keep their computers shut. Those who browsed the Web performed much worse on a subsequent test of how well they retained the lecture’s content. While it’s hardly surprising that Web surfing would distract students, it should be a note of caution to schools that are wiring their classrooms in hopes of improving learning.

Ms. Greenfield concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of screen-based media, she said, has strengthened visual-spatial intelligence, which can improve the ability to do jobs that involve keeping track of lots of simultaneous signals, like air traffic control. But that has been accompanied by “new weaknesses in higher-order cognitive processes,” including “abstract vocabulary, mindfulness, reflection, inductive problem solving, critical thinking, and imagination.” We’re becoming, in a word, shallower.

In another experiment, recently conducted at Stanford University’s Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab, a team of researchers gave various cognitive tests to 49 people who do a lot of media multitasking and 52 people who multitask much less frequently. The heavy multitaskers performed poorly on all the tests. They were more easily distracted, had less control over their attention, and were much less able to distinguish important information from trivia.

The researchers were surprised by the results. They had expected that the intensive multitaskers would have gained some unique mental advantages from all their on-screen juggling. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, the heavy multitaskers weren’t even good at multitasking. They were considerably less adept at switching between tasks than the more infrequent multitaskers. “Everything distracts them,” observed Clifford Nass, the professor who heads the Stanford lab.

It would be one thing if the ill effects went away as soon as we turned off our computers and cellphones. But they don’t. The cellular structure of the human brain, scientists have discovered, adapts readily to the tools we use, including those for finding, storing and sharing information. By changing our habits of mind, each new technology strengthens certain neural pathways and weakens others. The cellular alterations continue to shape the way we think even when we’re not using the technology.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being “massively remodeled” by our ever-intensifying use of the Web and related media. In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Merzenich, now a professor emeritus at the University of California in San Francisco, conducted a famous series of experiments on primate brains that revealed how extensively and quickly neural circuits change in response to experience. When, for example, Mr. Merzenich rearranged the nerves in a monkey’s hand, the nerve cells in the animal’s sensory cortex quickly reorganized themselves to create a new “mental map” of the hand. In a conversation late last year, he said that he was profoundly worried about the cognitive consequences of the constant distractions and interruptions the Internet bombards us with. The long-term effect on the quality of our intellectual lives, he said, could be “deadly.”

The other side of this back and forth

12 thoughts on “Conditionality Bad Card

  1. Dustin M-L

    This is great. Unfortunately, the next page of the article isn't as applicable to conditionality…

  2. Intrigued Debater

    On the topic of reading cards on theory arguments, do you think it is smart to read evidence for topicality (for example, interpretation extensions or limits cards)?

  3. Choi

    @ Intrigued Debater
    I think that if you can find studies or science to back up your claims like the one above then it puts you ahead on those issues. If there's evidence from a psychologist or someone similarly qualified stating that the 2AC critical thinking argument made on condo good is junk then I think its more credible than a high schooler's rehashed claim. It may perceptually increase the credibility of going for theory but that is probably up to judges so idk.

  4. Senor Chang

    @ Intrigued Debater

    I'm no Scott Phillips, but my lab leaders always told me that reading cards on topicality is a good idea.

  5. Stefan

    There is no evidence that a single debate provides the appropriate breadth-depth balance even absent conditionality. When debaters, go to the next debate, they debate different arguments, generating the same criticisms of multitasking.

    This is no more of a compelling objection to a conditional cp than saying Affs should only be able to read one advantage, the negative one disadvantage or kritik, etc, otherwise we'll all get confused and we won't learn anything.

  6. Nick Donlan

    Going a step further on the issue of T/theory cards, do you think it's useful to read stuff from debate coaches in these debates? This kind of ties back to that post about the Batterman T evidence, but let's say you're debating an aff with no plan and you read some old e-debate posts from D-Heidt or JP Lacy on framework – do you think that carries more weight than just making their arguments yourself? Clearly you get the advantage of judges calling for your blocks, but do you think this is a smart appeal to authority?

  7. J.V. Reed

    Doesn't this evidence also call into question debate practices beyond conditionality? Of interest to me, is that the evidence is pointing to the habituated neural pathways formed by an over reliance on new communication technologies. I wonder if the ever increasing demand in debates to have a card on everything (even if its a bad card) and the privilege given to carded "arguments" (even when they're bad arguments) versus arguments made with detail, but unsupported by a random blog post (the 3nr and UTNIF blog excluded, of course) entered as "evidence", might be a better example of what this essay is talking about?

  8. gulakov

    If anything, this is a Condo Good card. It's talking about doing different tasks simultaneously — ie, juggling flowing, writing answers, and pulling from expando. Having to think of the interaction of different offcase positions is no more multitasking than having to think of the interaction of different parts of a one-off kritik. You don't multitask when you read multiple offcase, you go through them one at a time, in order. What all these "multitasking bad" advocates (like David Allen's Getting Things Done) recommend doing is thinking about all the tasks you have to do then doing them one at a time — which is a skill trained only by making the 2ac deal with many conditional positions.

  9. Scott Phillips


    I assume you are not saying an advantage creates the same complexity a CP does?


    I think you missed the first part of the article. While this card does not perfectly mirror the conditionality bad for education 2AC whine, its quite a stretch to say this supports making the 2AC harder. I think this becomes fairly obvious just looking at say, the ability of a high school student today to give a 2AC vs a 2AC given by Roy 10 years ago. Kids today are too busy checking facebook and tweeting to get the job done.

  10. sb

    Applied to conditionality, the impact of this evidence would just be that it hurts our ability to gain knowledge in the round. However, most education in debate comes from research and strategic preparation, not someone reading a card and you saying "wow that was interesting". Given that this evidence is a description of a larger cultural shift due to the internet, and the fact that the round is mostly irrelevant in learning about IR theory or whatever, conditionality doesn't really create a unique or significant degradation of our cognitive abilities.

    I think the response article is actually a better condo good card.

    "It is tempting to want PatientsLikeMe without the dumb videos, just as we might want scientific journals without the erotic novels, but that's not how media works. Increased freedom to create means increased freedom to create throwaway material, as well as freedom to indulge in the experimentation that eventually makes the good new stuff possible."

  11. Layne

    i haven't read any comments so this may have been said, but this card applies to reading any number of offcase positions. It just says thinking about a lot of things is not groovy for info-processing.

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