Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Technology

How Is Technology Changing the Brain? 108

Posted by Soulskill
from the resistance-is-futile dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article at silicon.com explores how the use of technology might be changing the brain — including interviews with Nicholas Carr and Susan Greenfield. 'The research suggests the brain acts almost like a muscle - bulking up in regions required to perform oft-repeated mental tasks but diminishing in regions used for less common types of thinking. Or to put it another way, for example: do a lot of mental arithmetic, and your brain will get better at doing mental arithmetic. ... [Carr] goes on to suggest there is now a body of evidence that indicates the human brain adapts to suit how we use it. The question that follows is whether our technologies are making the best use of our grey matter.' The article makes an interesting point about how skill-loss is only part of the picture: 'When we look at technology we can't just look at loss, we also have to look at gain, and we also have to look at skillsets in the context of the modern world — our grandparents' skillset is not the skillset that will serve us the best.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Is Technology Changing the Brain?

Comments Filter:
  • by g00mbasv (2424710) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:29AM (#38024452)
    we all have experienced these changes, nowadays our brain is more adept at abstract concepts such as icons and other kind of meaning structures, the flip side is we do not rely on memory as much as we used to. try this nice experiment: try to do something that you were reasonable skillful at a long time ago. sciency stuff works fine for this, like solving a differential equation by a particular method, you WILL feel the need for a search engine in no time.
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      I haven't played a drumset or ridden a bike in a while. I wouldn't feel an urge to use a search engine to buy them either (plenty of music stores and bike shops nearby).
      • by g00mbasv (2424710)
        thats because you have muscle memory. those are mechanical skills, your brain has an easier time with those. im talking about purely intellectual stuff. I specifically said sciency stuff works better for this.
        • by Culture20 (968837)
          Okay, then German, French, Spanish... I suppose I feel a slight urge to use babelfish. Philosophy, no urge to use a search engine. Maybe sciency stuff is specially suited to intermittent lookups and not being thought about in the mean time?
          • by g00mbasv (2424710)
            philosphy its an interesting case, it really depends on what you understand by that term. if its the general lines of the schools of tought, well that is not that deep, and thus not that difficult to remember, funny thing with that is that philosophy is that deep down its just a fancy name for "reasoning" and you do reasoning every single day. not particle physics reasoning (unless you are a scientist) but just enough to keep your edge on the basis of philosophy.
            • by ganjadude (952775)
              dont forget the trolls who have a bookmark file that is 4 gigs large and can show you how jfk is really still alive and living in cuba or we never landed on the moon...because the aliens wouldnt let us. Or the political troll who can show you every last time bush said X but did Y...but cant tell you what X or Y are unless hes at a computer.
            • by mangu (126918)

              its just a fancy name for "reasoning" and you do reasoning every single day

              And don't forget that this kind of reasoning has very loose checks. It's not like programming where changing a comma for a semicolon will change everything.

              In philosophy you can be so obscure that anybody may interpret it their own way, and if somebody challenges the precision of your logic you can answer "oh, you know what I mean" and get away with it.

        • As opposed to instinctively grabbing a text book? We all forget stuff over time if the knowledge isn't used, technology hasn't changed that one bit. All that's changed is that we know that it can be faster and easier to look it up on the web. This is just the brain trying to take the easiest route and being lazy, and such has always been a part of human nature; all that has changed is the specific route. And trust me, there will be *no* technology or societal shift that will ever change that. ;)
          • by g00mbasv (2424710)
            thats exactly what I was talking about! the brain taking the easy route and being lazy, but you will not deny that before the internet you made a great deal about remembering things that might come in handy later on because it was difficult to search for them, ask yourself this, when you look for something useful on the web, do you make a conscious effort to remember what you just learned or you just verify the information and forget about it because you know it will be there later? as opposed of looking up
          • by foobsr (693224)

            take the easiest route and being lazy

            There are areas where quite a bit of exercise is required before you are able to take the easiest route and thus can afford to be lazy.

            Probably, for more general tasks, socialization is the space where the training happens.

            CC.

            • by ganjadude (952775)
              we could also look at phone numbers... when i was 6 or 7 i knew all my friends phone numbers...now i hate to admit i dont even know the phone number to my own house, its simply "call home" and it happens
    • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Friday November 11, 2011 @12:02PM (#38024986) Homepage

      From TFA:

      "Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation," he wrote. "My mind now expects to take in information the way the net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

      I think this article raises valid concerns. These ideas are preliminary, but they ring true with my experience and intuition. I think a good specific topic around which to discuss the impact of technology is the use of calculators by school age children. I have heard it argued that since calculators are so common, that children and adults won't need to perform numeric calculations, so they shouldn't need to learn how to do mental math. My own experience in physics leads me to think that I would not have been able to learn the principles I have learned if my mental math was poor. Mental math allows me to parse mathematical equations and derive meaning from them. I think that if a person lacks the ability to do for example times tables, this would be a serious barrier to comprehending basic algebra.

      A funny story from a friend, who is a teacher: He once had a 15 year old student come up to him and say "the square root button on my calculator isn't working. My friend took the calculator and tried it. Square root of nine...three. Square root of twenty five...five. "Well it seems to work for me" he said. Then the teenager took back the calculator and typed in "one" on the calculator and then pressed square root. "See sir, I keep pressing the square root button and nothing changes."

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Not really, you wouldn't be anywhere near as adept at parsing out or expressing the problems as formulas, but there's no reason to believe that you'd be any less capable of comprehending them. I started reading up on physics when I was 8, well before I had access to anything more than the most basic math skills. Even today most of the time when I'm trying to figure out a physics problem the numbers are largely the last thing I look at after modelling the system in my head.

        To put it another way, numbers are

        • Not really, you wouldn't be anywhere near as adept at parsing out or expressing the problems as formulas, but there's no reason to believe that you'd be any less capable of comprehending them.

          Physics formulae are fundamentally quantitative. They are precise logical assertions. I would argue that without a good sense of numbers, of quantity, you will miss important implications of the formulae. Try to play around with Schroedinger's equation without a solid algebraic skill set. You won't get very far.

          • by Genda (560240)

            You make a good point. We are by nature (literally) designed to deal with a very specific realm of dimension, time and environment. The minute the universe moves outside the range of our "evolutionarily engineered senses", the universe almost instantly ceases to be intuitive and/or predictable. Any of the universal phenomena that are mind numbingly large [youtube.com], extreme [physorg.com] or ridiculously small [scientificamerican.com], confuse and amaze the hell out of us. Even though our brains utilize quantum phenomena, understanding quantum mechanics is

      • by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Friday November 11, 2011 @01:24PM (#38026084) Homepage

        But why would being poorer at mental calculation be a bad thing now that we do have calculators? As long as all that brain power gets used usefully, that is, allocated to a higher level function, I say it is all good.

        I can just imagine someone back when the printing press was invented complaining that reading and reasonably priced books is going to ruin every ones memories as no one will be memorising epic poems when they can just read them.

        Things change. Different skills become valuable. This is not something to worry about as long as new and useful skills are learned.

        • But why would being poorer at mental calculation be a bad thing now that we do have calculators? As long as all that brain power gets used usefully, that is, allocated to a higher level function, I say it is all good.

          I'm not sure you read the rest of my post, especially pertaining to the study of physics. I don't think you realize the nature of quantitative fields such as physics. In my direct experience, lacking a certain level of mental math would be a profound roadblock to comprehension and application of physics principles.

      • "I think this article raises valid concerns."

        The net selects for low energy easily digestible and often times emotionally/politically charged information. One only has to look at how simple most perspectives are even on slashdot. No one really wants to critique ones own pet ideals or ideology. Most people and yes - even most people on slashdot don't have any interest in undermining ideas they find appealing. That's not how you go about finding truth and developing insight into the nature of reality. It

    • by V!NCENT (1105021)

      Bullshit. Everybody forgets old skills whenever they are not needed anymore. The fastest way to get it is a search engine, but if a sciency book was right in front of me, I'd hit that instead.

      The brain adapts, and so in this day and age; it's adapted to suit the environment, so guess what? That's good. If an internet meltdown were to suddenly start happening, I'd grab my programming, math and physics book form the shelf and start adapting to the new environment.

      If I'm on vacation; I don't have access to the

    • by pburghdoom (1892490) on Friday November 11, 2011 @01:28PM (#38026136)
      This is related to the study done a little while ago out of Columbia University [columbia.edu] . The basic idea is we tend to forget things we know we can find quickly through a search.
    • by cjherk (2505814)
      Yes, everything has changed so much. I hardly ever hear of anyone using a slide rule or an abacas (I even spelled it wrong). We look everything up on the computer, rather than a book or racking our brain. Things changed so much since I was a kid...I wonder how much will change for our children and grandchildren.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:30AM (#38024474)
    We need to be careful in dismissing old skills. Just because we may not need them for our work doesn't mean that losing them won't have a negative impact. Look at the parallel with physical exercise. we can do our jobs without any for a time, but if we never exercise then eventually we will get physical and mental issues that will undermine our performance and well-being. It could be the same with memory tasks; we can do with a lower level for a while but if we always have access to google, schedules, etc. could we reach a point where our lack of memory impairs our usefulness even with these tools? Or could it lead to earlier problems with day to day living as we age? I would be cautious about relying on technology too much.
    • by fermion (181285)
      Most people I know don't know how climb trees well. I wonder how many have climbed trees. When I was you there were a few years where I almost lived in a tree.

      i have never had any skill for handwriting. 100 years ago this might have really meant that I did not make it through elementary school. If I had been born 10 years later I might have made better grades because I would have had more access to a computer, or at least a typewriter.

      Any technology arguably changes the brain and the skills we value

    • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Friday November 11, 2011 @02:39PM (#38027164) Homepage

      Any Starcraft players here?

      Any of you ever take a couple of months off from playing and then go back?

      Any of you NOT completely suck after being out of practice?

      Some things are simple and unforgettable, like riding a bicycle, playing Starcraft (well) is not. Sounds like an excuse for another fMRI study of 6 people (3 players and 3 controls) to be published and covered in the media as if it is discovering some truth of the universe, based on one billionth of the population.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "our grandparents' skillset is not the skillset that will serve us the best."

      Says who? People are so pacified today, govt/corporations can get away with nearly anything. That is less and less true the further back you go in history.

  • by Gorshkov (932507) <admgorshkov.yahoo@com> on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:30AM (#38024476)
    I was going to read TFA - believe it or not, I usually do. But after seeing Susan Greenfield's name in the summary, I decided to skip it. Anybody here who's familiar with Ben Goldachre's [badscience.net] site, badscience.net, is certainly familiar enough with her antics that they'd know anything that comes out of her mouth is, at best, fiction.
    • I'd never heard of Greenfield, but I stopped reading after the article stated she'd written an article on her theories for the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is at best the British tabloid version of Fox News. Not exactly the place legitimate science gets published.

  • Get over it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fortapocalypse (1231686) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:31AM (#38024498)
    "She has also variously called for more research on whether there is a link between ADHD and internet use, and has also questioned whether increases in autism might be down to too much screen time." No, the problem is that today we have to diagnose everything. Once you put a name on it, then doctors and pharmacists can help you "fix" it. Both a primary physician and a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD recently told me that ADHD is overdiagnosed. When doctors that see it all the time tell you it is over diagnosed, then you should start to question whether we should just accept that the rate of ADHD is actually rising. In addition, Asperger syndrome is getting a lot of publicity in the past several years, and now there is even a main character in a popular TV show "Parenthood" that has it. If you are looking at the ground instead of into people's eyes now instead of "shy" they say you are borderline Asperger's. When will this madness stop? Why can't we just call people "hyper", "slow", "lazy", "shy", "wierd", "dumn", or "scary"? Those words carried less baggage with them and people didn't obsess about them. It is one thing if you can truly help someone get better, but in many cases it is just a label and another reason to feel like you were handed the short end of the stick rather than to give you reason to try to be normal on your own.
    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Why can't we just call people "hyper", "slow", "lazy", "shy", "wierd", "dumn", or "scary"?

      I know you are, you say you are.


      So what am I?

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I'm guessing that if you're making a post like that and can't even bother to spell "weird" and "dumb" correctly that you probably aren't the sharpest tool in the shed. Additionally, the whole post is rubbish and you ought to be somewhat appreciative that people don't call you dumb more regularly.

      As for doctors, they can't fix stupid, but they can help quite a bit with ADHD and similar neurological disorders.

      • Get over it grammar nazi... Not everyone's native language is English, and those seemed to be common typos probably because of speed typing and a browser without a spell checker
      • by Mal-2 (675116)

        As for doctors, they can't fix stupid, but they can help quite a bit with ADHD and similar neurological disorders.

        Sometimes they can. I have two examples, both from the same grandmother.
        1. In her early 70's, she started to act strangely -- driving adequately but forgetting where she was going, for example. Then she was found to be diabetic, and when this was brought under control, SHE GOT A LOT SMARTER because the things that had been holding back her still-substantial latent abilities were no longer doing so.
        2. She has been going deaf for a long time, but recently got a pair of new glasses. She almost immediately rema

    • "Why can't we just call people "hyper", "slow", "lazy", "shy", "wierd", "dumn", or "scary"?"

      In part that is because of politicaly correct madness, in part that is because people do like new trends and are happy to jump on the new names.

      Anyway, the baggage a word carries is mainly determined by how it is used, maybe a bit by length and origin, but not much. Thus if people start using "Aspenger" instead of "shy" in short time "Aspenger" will carry exactly the same baggage as "shy" does now. (Now, tell that to

    • Everyone has ADHD and everyone has Asperger. Sounds like a whole lot of pharmaceuticals for everyone! Imagine the profit. Ohh right, i guess i figured out why it's over diagnosed. It's because of the money involved. Can't parent your children? There must be something wrong with the children, can be you. Make them take some pills to make them behave, what could go wrong?

    • No, the problem is that today we have to diagnose everything. Once you put a name on it, then doctors and pharmacists can help you "fix" it. Both a primary physician and a psychiatrist who specializes in ADHD recently told me that ADHD is overdiagnosed.

      Indeed. If you have any doubt of this, just look at a map of ADHD prevalence. Ken Robinson does a nice explanation in his TED talk [youtube.com]. Millions of kids are being medicated for what amounts to a fictitious epidemic.

      Never mind the intensely stimulating environment they're growing up in, with everything from iPhones to computers to television to game consoles demanding their attention, not to mention the advertising industry all the while using each of these platforms to try and discover new and better ways of ge

  • by Crash McBang (551190) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:33AM (#38024532)
    after I got an HP-35 and quit using my slide rule, I found that I had less of a feel for numbers. Hard to put into words, it kind of felt like I couldn't do math as well, but I could process numbers faster, as long as I had my calculator. Take the calculator away, and it seemed to take forever to do things.
    • Funny- I've never been able to get a horse to take me where I want to go, ever since I started driving that car.
      • I used to do all math in my head, then I got a slide rule. I don't know, I just seem to lose a feel for numbers. Sure, I could do calculations faster, but that good old fashioned number feel was gone.

    • Well, that's because you are one tier further removed from those numbers. Instead of computing them in your brain you abstracted that away into your slide rule, and again into the calculator. I'd say that abstracting tedium to a device better suited for it is a good thing. Your statement is a lot like asking why do anything in Java when you have 8086 assembly? The answer is I'd rather solve the interesting high level problem than the already solved many times over boring low level ones.
      • by rev0lt (1950662)

        Your statement is a lot like asking why do anything in Java when you have 8086 assembly?

        Answer: floating point. While I'm not a java guy, I've done my fair share of mathematical functions in x86 assembly (both with and without floating point support), but it is nice not to have to think about specific implementations - after you've mastered them. I'd never learned about taylor series, fixed point math, square root approximations if not for the need to implement them from zero. Its a bit like painting in watercolor - you may take years before you can paint something decent, but after you master

    • by hedwards (940851)

      If you want to get a good feel for numbers then you have to use them. To an extent any tool you use is going to negatively affect ones ability to feel the numbers. I didn't start out being so good doing it, I've spent years doing math in my head and over time the ability tends to develop. I still whip out a calculator when I know the result isn't possible with sufficient precision in my head, but most of the time doing a quick back of the napkin calculation in the head is close enough anyways.

  • by Surt (22457) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:36AM (#38024582) Homepage Journal

    I'd say we're making pretty good use of technology. It's clearly freeing up the brain for activities that are proving beneficial to society. There's really no room for doubt given the mountain of evidence.

  • by digitalcoup (2423556) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:49AM (#38024792)
    I just asked Siri, and she said not to worry, that my brain is not being affected. Phew. I was scared by the headline for a brief moment.
  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:55AM (#38024890)

    At least from anecdotal experience, I'd say there's merit to the claim that different mental exercises cause brain changes. My evidence? I have reasonable command of most math concepts, but I'm a complete drooling idiot when it comes to mental arithmetic. As in, being the embarrassed guy who pulls out a piece of paper or calculator to multiply >2 digit numbers. I've worked over the years to try to get better at it, and have succeeded somewhat. I can now at least keep some figures in my head and work things out, albeit slower than most people -- my problem before was that the problem setup in my brain would disappear as I was trying to work out the interim sums/products; I just couldn't hold on to the running totals. The only way I'd be able to do this is by forcing myself to...if I were still relying on a calculator to figure out a tip in a restaurant, that part of my brain would stay in its atrophied state IMO.

    Now, extend this example to the problem domain we have now -- Internet access is almost an auxiliary brain for most people. I know I don't keep as much stuff in my brain as I used to. I do systems work, and there are tons of esoteric facts that help me do my job (knowing the "secret" registry settings in Windows for key server parameters, or the names of the 5 million files in /etc and which I need to change to make something happen in Linux. Back when I started doing this in the dinosaur era of Win 3.1 and OS/2, the only references available were paper manuals, live tech support and "Resource Kits" for products. It made sense to have a million things in your head so you didn't have to go look them up. But just this morning, I needed to find where to change a parameter in Microsoft Deployment Toolkit's set of scripts. I didn't go to a manual, or the collection of facts in my head -- I typed it into the search box of the browser. And I got the answer in about 30 seconds of searching, picking the right search result and reading the online text.

    Now, the question is, does this make humans dumber? I think that if you're measuring mental ability by the volume of trivia in your head, then yes. I do think we need to figure out exactly what we really should keep stored away and what we can look up so we're not completely helpless should Google choose to be extra-evil. I also think that humans need to work on their attention spans and be able to stick to a problem more -- the rise of texting/social media/always-on Internet access is to blame for this.

    Technology can be used to help us develop other skills to replace a head full of trivia...even simple tasks can improve people's problem solving, critical thinking and reasoning skills. Again, taking an example from my systems admin work -- how many fellow sysadmins do you know who don't logically lay out the solution to a problem and troubleshoot the real root cause? Good ones do this -- bad ones change 90 things all at once and see if the problem goes away, even if a new problem pops up. But if my mental arithmetic example is to be believed, people can get better with practice.

    • by Guppy (12314)

      Internet access is almost an auxiliary brain for most people.

      Obligatory XKCD:
      http://xkcd.com/903 [xkcd.com]

    • by foobsr (693224)

      different mental exercises cause brain changes

      e.g. "Mindfulness meditation training changes brain structure in 8 weeks"
      http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-mindfulness-meditation-brain-weeks.html

      CC.

  • by LordNacho (1909280) on Friday November 11, 2011 @11:57AM (#38024914)

    One the one hand, having all this IT gives you the ability to find out things that would have taken hours in the past. Just now we've had a discussion in the office about the differences between electrical and IC engines. We couldn't have done that without Google/Wikipedia.

    On the other hand, having machines doing things for you can cause complacency. I used to know all the trig relations by heart (sin(A+B) = sinAcosB + cosAsinB? or was it a minus?) but know I rely on having it to hand. This is barely defensible, because the next step is to not understand things and have critical thinking done in the same way as looking up a constant in a book.

    Why did Napoleon invade Russia? I'll look it up on Wikipedia. But that's not a way to be educated. I'm starting to come to the view that kids should not in fact learn using the new techniques ("everything can be found in Wikipedia/Google") and spend significant time thinking through things themselves, lest their critical skills atrophy. (Having said that, I've even looked up logical fallacies on Wikipedia, in an attempt to make my critical thinking better!) With tech being so easy to use, I'm sure they can find out how to use it once they know how.

    • "This is barely defensible, because the next step is to not understand things and have critical thinking done in the same way as looking up a constant in a book."

      I'd say that this next step isn't defensible. That fact says nothing about the current step. There was a flaw at your consulting of "non sequitur" on Wikipedia.

      About your "why Napoleon invaded Russia", I'm really lost on that one. We can do much better critical thinking when we have easy access to tons of data, so it should be better to learn to wo

      • "This is barely defensible, because the next step is to not understand things and have critical thinking done in the same way as looking up a constant in a book."

        I'd say that this next step isn't defensible. That fact says nothing about the current step. There was a flaw at your consulting of "non sequitur" on Wikipedia.

        About your "why Napoleon invaded Russia", I'm really lost on that one. We can do much better critical thinking when we have easy access to tons of data, so it should be better to learn to work this way. By the other side, we must have a set of stored on our heads, or we'll be unable to link one stuff with another (at least with current technology), so it is important to learn some things the old way. Maybe we should expect children to do both: reduce a bit the amount of data they are expected to learn but conserve a huge part, and teach them how to reach new data and criticize it.

        Another way to say the same thing. I think my issue is more that them younguns aren't learning the "old way" rather than that there's something inherently wrong with using IT to learn stuff.

        I don't think it's a non sequitur. The next step after farming out reference information could quite logically be farming out critical thinking about said information? I'm not referring to some well-known mechanism, but surely that's the next thought for a lot of people?

    • I used to know all the trig relations by heart (sin(A+B) = sinAcosB + cosAsinB? or was it a minus?) but know I rely on having it to hand. This is barely defensible, because the next step is to not understand things and have critical thinking done in the same way as looking up a constant in a book.

      its correct, i know it by heart because i have to use it on a near-daily basis (in college). but you don't remember it not because the trig part of your brain has become retarded or anything, but just because that info is not frequently needed, so it has been swapped-out to long term memory. in the case you need that info, you'll think for a few minutes (or seconds) or look up on the web (or in a book) and voila! this does not indicate any problem, this is your brain making space for other more relevant stu

  • ... the attractively organic nature of the female body and its function more than ever. ;)
  • http://xkcd.com/903/ [xkcd.com]

    Although I'm not quite this bad, I do rely on search engines for pretty much everything I don't deal with regularly. I, and most of the tech people I know, are extremely deft at plucking information out of the internet with almost no effort.

    • by fsckmnky (2505008)
      I wouldn't say the behavior of relying on search engines is new. Before the internet, web, and search engines, we collectively relied on books and libraries and card catalogs and reference tables / charts to find information we didn't deal with regularly.
      • That is true, but the amount of effort required to do that was still orders of magnitude than now.

        If you needed to know, say, the properties of aloe vera. If you didn't already have it memorized, you would have to go to the library, dig through the catalog to find out where the book is (assuming we're talking about a more modern library that used the dewey decimal system), get out the book, and flip through the book until you found what you needed.

        What do we do now? We *might* go to a library. More likel

  • "Holy Bob! Will you look at the size of that tumor?"
    "It's not a tumah..*AHEM* It's not a tumah...DAMMIT! It's not a tumor."
    "Sure it is. Look at the size of it! And it shouldn't be there."
    "For him, that's natural."
    "Huh?"
    "That's the portion of the brain that controls the right index finger."
    "So?"
    "He's been an FPS gamer since age 7."
    "Ohhhhhhh."
    "Can you say RESEARCH GRANT?"

  • Technology may alter how our brain grows a tiny bit, but our brains still have far more power over technology. Our brains create it.

  • by davecrusoe (861547) on Friday November 11, 2011 @12:20PM (#38025252) Homepage

    Avoiding the Susan Greenfield issue, the topic is definitely worthy to ponder for a moment. I'll speak about myself, and in doing so, suspect that I speak for many of us.

    Already, my machine is performing a very important role for me: it's my memory. My e-mail archive is a living memory of all the conversations I've had, which means something rather profound: that I don't have to remember the literal data that were provided, e.g., the specific wording of a decision, but instead, that such a conversation happened at one point, and was tracked via e-mail.

    Beyond this capacity, let's address the point of TFA.

    It's well known that neural circuity develops as a human spends more time with something, e.g., a talented musician has larger areas of cortex devoted to the things that make a talented musician talented, e.g., hand movements, musicality, etc. Whether these areas are separate, e.g., modular, and/or if they're represented as an integrated system is a conversation for another day. Suffice to say that brain areas expand as a human practices things more.

    So it's fair to say that using technological tools in the commonplace way that we do builds neural matter that support our expanding use of the same. Whether this is at the expense of other skills, neurally, we don't know.

    On the other hand, how many of us take the time to bake our own bread, fix our own cars, and plow our fields? It's fair to say that we spend less time building the products for our basic needs, which means that we develop those skills - and the related neural matter - less

    So, while the author of TFA may (or may not be) a lady with a funky background, clearly the idea has merit and its implications - tradeoff of neural representation in areas of skill - is important to consider as we expand our use of social and media devices, and decrease the time we spend developing our ability to perform other tasks (supplanted by technology, as it were).

  • by MassiveForces (991813) on Friday November 11, 2011 @12:34PM (#38025430)
    I think that the discussion here might get a bit two dimensional; mature slashdotters who use the internet a lot and know it's beneficial arguing against a woman who black-boxes the internet by presuming that badass teens who use the internet in ways she can't imagine are affected by it, somehow, and thus it serves as the reason for any malady she can think of since she has no causation or even much correlation in her arguments.

    For those of us with partners, friends and family and not in their teens, it's pretty obvious that while us nerds delve fully into the fringes technology which has been developing rapidly, everyone else is using technology the same way. From the invention of the telephone to the mobile, the main reason people are on the net is to talk to one another - which isn't a sea change at all, since people always do it face to face too. And now people are using it as their diary, and encyclopedia. Not game changers either, for the brain. Just quicker.

    I think xkcd 973 is appropriate. Teens are badass because they're teens. Not because of MTV or the Tubes.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    NPR did a series recently "Fade to Black" about Alzheimers. One of the researchers that was interviewed did a test where animals (might have been mice or rats) with measurable cognitive decline were given a new environment full of new, colorful toys, and just a very stimulating environment overall. She found that they significantly improved.

    It made me think a lot about this brain/muscle analogy, and people that I know whose only hobby became watching TV, who are retired or disabled. Its stark the contrast b

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Weren't people saying the same thing when people started writing on clay tablets? Or contemplating using Arabic (er, Indian) numerals?
    I guess how an individual is affected could be related to their usage habits - but that seems pretty sketchy as a basis for a paradigm. I mean, did they exhibit greater cognitive acuity before their predilection for Scheiße porn turned into an obsession (not that there's anything wrong with that, Dave) served up by an all-too-willing Internet? Or is online behavior reall

  • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Friday November 11, 2011 @01:30PM (#38026152) Homepage

    The article was about technology and its impact on the mind. I think it is useful to look back in history to other developments that fundamentally changed our ways of thinking. I have heard it argued that in a way, the Jesuit religious order was responsible for the Enlightenment. The Jesuits ran schools where they inculcated in children the habit of being logical. They trained their students from an early age in debate, argument, and logic. This was for a religious purpose, but there were unintended consequences of this training. Some students who received his training in logic went on to question religion itself. Rene Descartes for example came to believe that everything should be questioned, including the church. He is one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, and his writings have influenced all of us, whether or not we are conscious of them.

    I am quite sure that the logical training the Jesuits did had a significant impact on the brain development of the children who were trained. Similarly, I suspect that our technology is also having an impact on the way we think, on our brain development. The reason I feel it is useful to look at this comparison is that it shows that childhood training can have a profound impact on society. If we train our children to be logical, those habits of mind will follow them throughout their lives. What type of training are children getting when they spend most of their lives plugged into the web?

    • " He is one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, and his writings have influenced all of us, whether or not we are conscious of them."

      Speaking of the enlightenment, the enlightenment thinkers had no idea how the brain or human reasoning worked. Much of what they thought about reasoning and what many people today think about their own ability to reason is absolutely incorrect. You should all see the following:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYmi0DLzBdQ [youtube.com]

  • One noticeable side effect for me, is typing/spelling laziness.

    I was a spelling-bee champ when I was a kid, now I'm loosing
    the abiluty to speel korrektly. Cause I lazily type full speed
    and let the auto correction stuff and red squiggly lines do the
    heavy lifting for me.

    The part that technology has affected, I'm too lazy to make the
    mental note, "hey dumbass, that's not how it's spelled", cause
    the autocorrect feature is rather quick and well, brain cycles ain't
    cheap. =)

    -AI

  • It has been rotting children's brains for years, now we have adults who prattle on for hours about Seinfeld, Lost, and Super Bowl commercials.
  • Sometimes we rag on bad articles here and say things like "I go to /. for the comments" but as someone who is trying to kick video game addiction I found the article quite fascinating and even handed, the plasticity of our minds is quite amazing.

  • A simple test (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Friday November 11, 2011 @02:23PM (#38026860)
  • Really its scientific , its fun and it works, its free (weel at least the basic training). And it wouldn't have been possible for those great scientists to bring this awesome brain training to everyone without "technology". So thanks again technology.
  • I wonder if the rise is autism is strictly a diagnoses thing, or environmental thing, or perhaps due to 3 or 4 generations exposed to the flashing lights of television and computers.
    Since autistic children have a massive increase in brain cells in the frontal cortex, and in some case "mild autism or high functioning" appears to be perfectly suited to intense concentration and skills sets beneficial to programming, engineering, etc, and programmers/engineers that marry and have children have a higher inciden

  • I do think there are changes happening from generation to generation what ever the tech might be, in order for that new generation to adapt and become a better tech user. This is inherent in our species....3rd and 4th generation are always better at xxx than the previous ones... however, I do believe that rewriting the way the brain develops comes from 2 things, real time experience, such as trauma situations like war and medical emergencies and accidents etc.... and repeated cellular
    usage, such as texting

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup

Working...