Technology: taking over the world, one brain at a time

A few classes ago, it was mentioned that our brains have evolved and changed over time.  We now live in a world of smartphones, iPads, Twitter and more, so much more that we are constantly inundated with technology.  While the recent revolution in technology allows us to do wonderful and incredible things, for example, video chatting with family who are far away, it has also been proposed that technology is taking a toll on our brains.  A New York Times article from 2010 entitled “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price” outlines the story of Kord Campbell, a businessperson with an internet startup company.  It is Mr. Campbell’s job to work on the internet, but he’s not immune to the pull of “multitasking”.  On one of his three monitors that are constantly open, he follows a feed of over 1,000 people on twitter.  Mr. Campbell has missed important business emails and meetings in the constant wave of technology that sweeps over his desk.  When not on the internet, he gets fidgety and cranky.   Indeed, researchers have compared the motivation to be connected to technology to the drive for drugs.  Technology also increases the frequency of multitasking, which, as it turns out, doesn’t work very well.  A study described in the NYT article showed that people classified as “heavy multitaskers” had more difficulty blocking out irrelevant information and took longer to switch between tasks.  Technology, for all its benefits, may be undermining our ability to pay attention.

However, it is too soon to say if changes in our lifestyles and cognition due to technology are all good or all bad.  For example, people who play certain types of video games develop better visual acuity, while research has suggested that internet users are better at finding information than non-internet users.  And of course, we have to keep in mind the social benefits to technology.  The very science that developed video games that distract countless teens from their homework has also allowed for virtual reality technologies that are used in therapy and, more recently, in fMRI studies of the brain.  Despite problems caused by technology, we certainly benefit from it as well.  Will problems in attention caused by technology continue to create problems for us?  It seems that the only answer we have now is to wait and see, if we can pay attention long enough.

5 thoughts on “Technology: taking over the world, one brain at a time

  1. Information MUST be compressed such that we can derive some personal laws so as to create a life. There is no alternative to this. Hopefully Natural Selection will eliminate certain forms of information. Besides with the kind of population we are looking for the only significant personal space will be in another dimension.
    I am taking in more and better information than at any time in the past.


  2. My entry had a similar vibe. I definitely agree that time will play a key role in determining the effects of technology. Mentioning of the use of technology in therapy made me think of LeDoux’s reference awhile back to a video game that is being developed to help children with dyslexia, very cool implications.


    1. Robyn – some therapies for PTSD use video game simulations to get people to relieve experiences that were similar to their own traumatic experience so that they can learn how to experience the memory without the symptoms. Along the same lines I think some treatments for phobias use virtual reality simulations to help people get over their fear.


  3. Oh right, I had forgotten about the war trauma example from class. I can’t really picture how it could help some other phobias. Personally, a spider video game would probably worsen my arachnophobia.


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