This is your brain on Technology

There are an increasing amount of studies being done to explore how our brains are adapting to the more and more ever present technologies in our lives.  Personally I find this exploration to be incredibly fascinating not only because I’d be the first to admit I have a growing tech addiction but also as it truly shows evolution in action.

There generally seems to be some negativity surrounding how we’re adapting to the technology and I do have to agree in some instances like this article, Technology and the death of handwriting which discusses surveys results like, “One in three children struggle with their handwriting and almost one in five slip into text message language when they do put pen to paper…”  I find this to be something that is abhorrent to hear.  Penmanship was something I and my brother struggled with as children.  For me, I was living in the UK during my elementary eduction, my school actually had me take additional penmanship tutoring to make sure my handwriting was not only clear and legible but elegant.  My brother, who had his elementary education in the US and also struggled with a learning disability, never had that much effort put into his handwriting,  Though it was mentioned in his school reviews and my mother worked with him to improve it was never pushed as something that was inherent to the learning process.  Yet as the article goes on to discuss with another interviewee, “Professor Rhona Stainthorp, who is conducting research into children’s writing abilities, says there is growing evidence those who write faster and more legibly get better marks.” Obviously this is an area where we need to place more of our attention on.  Lamebook has easily illustrated this.

Yet I do feel that some people are pushing the idea a little far claiming that technology is temporarily or permanently damaging our mental faculties such as focus and attention.  Such as this article Changing the way we think where one of the interviewees actually, “likens himself to HAL, the computer in Arthur C Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, reverting to child-like singing as its memory banks are disconnected by astronaut Dave Bowman.”  Don’t mistake me I do agree with points made in the article like Susan Greenfield who”…argues that the visual stimulus we get from screen-based information and entertainment differs so markedly from that available to previous generations that certain areas of the brain, specifically those areas that are older in evolutionary terms and retain the capacity to alter as a result of experience, may be affected in ways that express themselves a changes to personality and behavior.”  This is really evolution in practice but to think that immediately this is a bad thing is faulty logic.  Will some people get left behind by evolution?  Absolutely.  But this is a reality that we all have to come to terms with, not everyone is going to want to come along for the ride.  Just look at the rise in religious fundamentalists which as Karen Armstrong argues in her book The Battle for God, is inexplicably linked to these people’s reaction to modernism.

Yet what is the answer to this new development?  Personally I believe that some people will simply have more of the right brain structure to properly adapt to the influx of mental stimuli.  But I do think that it is very important for everyone to find ways to disconnect from this constant barrage, evolution doesn’t happen overnight.  For example some scientists are exploring the impact nature has at restoring cognitive function.  In this article from the NYTimes, Your brain on computers, a reporter follows along for a hiking and rafting trip with 5 neuroscientists as they disconnect from the technological world.  I really found this article to be quite fascinating especially their discussion about urgency, “It is a debate that has become increasingly common as technology has redefined the notion of what is ‘urgent.’  How soon do people need to get information and respond to it? The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.”  But even more interesting is the affect a natural vs. urban setting can have on the brain, “The study indicates that learning centers in the brain become taxed when asked to process information, even during the relatively passive experience of taking in an urban setting.”  Even going on to discuss the 3rd day syndrome which is when people actually begin to relax on vacation.  But for this team there relaxation turns into productivity as they spend their time talking instead of ‘teching’.
“Two scientists packing their tents discuss which imaging techniques may best show the effects of digital overload on the brain. The full group tosses around ways to measure the release of brain chemicals into the bloodstream. A pair paddling the big raft talk about how to apply neuroeconomics — measuring how the brain values information — to understand compulsive texting by teenagers.”

But while I would agree that their natural surrounding did play a huge role in their relaxation, focus, and productivity, studies in classrooms have already shown children to be more productive and focused in classrooms with natural sunlight, I do think that it is the group itself and it’s ability for everyone to contribute on their terms that really makes sessions like this truly work.  As the video below discusses, motivation is greatly dependent on a person’s surroundings and ability to dictate how they would like to work.  And for me, brainstorming over frosty beverage while watching the sun set couldn’t sound better.

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