This is your brain, on YouTube

15Jun09

As I watch my nieces and nephews grow up amid computers and smart phones and GPS, I can’t help but wonder: What’s all this technology doing to their brains? Are they forming the same types of neural connections I did at their age, or are their brains developing differently?

And if their brains are developing differently, is it possible that within a few generations, humans will actually start to produce new neural pathways to better interact with technology? In other words, will our brains undergo a physical change in response to our changing environment?

I’ve tossed this question around among my friends—which is perhaps why I don’t get many dinner invitations—and most have discounted the notion that our brains are physically rewiring themselves. Or maybe they’re just discounting the notion of discussing brains at the dinner table.

In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much empirical data to support this idea, let alone physical evidence. But a couple of interesting studies have surfaced recently.

One of these suggested that using a computer for Web searches for just an hour a day changes the way our brains process information.

The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but also is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains. Daily exposure to high technology—computers, smart phones, video games, search engines such as Google and Yahoo—stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones. Because of the current technological revolution, our brains are evolving right now—at a speed like never before.

Is this good news? Is it evidence that our species is evolving to a higher state of consciousness? Or is it the first sign of our cultural collapse and our eventual plunge back into barbarity?

I’d say neither, and both. When it comes to human behavior, everything is a double-edged sword.

Yes, the kids who spend time on Facebook have lower GPAs. But they also have a greater sense of connectedness to their peers. Which is more important, in the end?

I’d love to hear what you think.



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