October 30, 2008

IS THE INTERNET ALTERING THE BRAIN?

Posted in Economics, Education, Environment, Philosophy, Psychology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:18 am by randallbutisingh

IS THE INTERNET ALTERING THE BRAIN?

Is there an evolutionary change unfolding – is the Internet changing the way people live and also altering the way our brains work? Gary Small, a neuro-scientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.

Gary Small argues that: “The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others,” “We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution.”

He says that the tech-savvy may rise to the top of the new social order. However, while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks by creating Internet addicts, whose friends are mostly “virtual”, thus reducing face-to-face interaction. It may also have caused the dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.

In his newly released fourth book “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,” Small looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information. He said the brain was very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought by technology. He found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.

He believes that “We’re seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills”. He said the tech-savvy generation, or “digital natives,” are always scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even damage neural networks.

“The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others,” “We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution.”

Edited from an article by Belinda Goldsmith (Reuters – Oct 28, 2008)

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COMMENT:

We are now living in a very important time in the history of Man.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), the visionary communications theorist predicted the effects of electronic media on modern culture as early as 1964. A brilliant Canadian academic rebel, McLuhan published several breakthrough books, including The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. He coined terms like “hot” and “cool” media, “the global village,” and “the medium is the message.”

One of McLuhan’s major theories was that all technologies are “extensions of man” and that changes in technology affect the sensory perceptions in man and the development and integration of the “extensions” within man’s evolution. For instance, he pointed out that the gun is an extension of the hand; the wheel an extension of the feet, and the computer as an extension of the brain. Each “development” improved the capability of that aspect of the body.

It is therefore not surprising that after some 50 years of electronic media and the development of the computer, TV, video games, the cell phone and other electronic gadgets that young people are now completely immersed in an electronic environment that is changing the “wiring” within their brains to operate at faster speeds and multi-dimensionally when compared to the brains programmed in the previous linear world of the Gutenberg printed page. Their capabilities may not be better or more intelligent – they are just different.

Have you not been amazed and even baffled by the multi-tasking capabilities of today’s youth? They have on the TV, computer – Internet, radio, phone, they do texting, play video games all on at the same time, and can switch effortlessly between them… seemingly bored if not stimulated? The effects of these new technologies are only now being realized as we – especially the older folk who have bridged both realities can see the contrasts. One wonders what the effects of the new technologies would all lead to in the coming years as this “new reality” becomes the established standard leaving those who have not accepted them behind.

— Cyril Bryan – cybryan@gmail.com

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