Ibrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind Paperback – Sep 17 2009
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From the Back Cover
Shaped by the era of Google and limitless access to news and information, the brains of your coworkers, your children, and your competition are remapping, retooling, and evolving. Are you keeping up?
Dr. Gary Small, one of America's leading neuroscientists and experts on brain function and behavior, explores how technology's unstoppable march forward has altered the way young minds develop, function, and interpret information. iBrain reveals a new evolution catalyzed by technological advancement and its future implications: What are the professional, social, and political impacts of this new brain evolution? How must you adapt and at what price? iBrain can help us avoid the potential drawbacks—add, increased social isolation, Internet addiction, and so on—while offering the tools and strategies needed to bridge the brain gap, enabling us to compete and thrive in the age of high-tech immersion.
About the Author
Dr. Gary Small is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the university's Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior. He and Gigi Vorgan are the authors ofiBrain,The Memory Prescription,The Longevity Bible, andThe Memory Bible.
Top Customer Reviews
IBrain is great book about the effects of technology on our brains.
The man point of the book is that how learn, especially in our formative years, determines how the pathways in our brains are formed. Different kinds of information lead to different connections.
The book starts off by talking about the brain and how connections are made, especially in regards to how the different parts of the brain work together. If young people spend too much time using technology and not enough time interacting with others, frontal lobe development may be stunted. The implication of this is that such people will have difficulty in later life dealing with interpersonal relations. An example of this is given where a non technological person asks a bunch of young techies to develop a new marketing plan. They come in, do a presentation, do make small talk, do not make eye contact, and though they do a great presentation, they do not get the job because the person hiring wants to be able to relate to the people he hires.
The first half of the book goes through these issues and talks about problems such as the lack of social interaction and addictions to technology, and the problems they lead to. And in each case Dr. Small explains how these behaviors affect the brain, along with diagrams of the brain. He argues that adult deficit disorder is really a result of too much technology, which leads to the need for constant stimuli. This need is caused both by expectations and by how the brain circuitry has developed due to the extended use of technology.Read more ›
1. The authors say that learning nonverbal communication depends on lots of face-to-face social interaction. They don't present any evidence of this. From what I've read, nonverbal communication is actually mostly instinct. Plus, they don't say anything about how this claim might stop short of the old refrigerator-parent hypothesis of autism.
2. They present Akio Mori's discredited "game brain" study as fact.
3. They rely on correlational evidence to claim that video games cause violence. The causal link has been repeatedly disconfirmed in experiments, and what I've read about the Columbine shootings suggests that restricting Eric Harris's gaming may have just made him worse.
And that's just what I *know* is wrong. There's probably some accurate information in this book, but the authors clearly haven't done enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.
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The book starts by explaining how the human brain develops at different stages of life - malleable in both children and adults, and at it's prime in middle age. Dr. Small cites several studies in both children and adults that tie frequent technology use to conditions such as ADD, ADHD, Autism, depression, anxiety, and even sociopathic behavior. Dr. Small cautions that the damage of frequent technology use is especially prevalent for children under eight years old. The news is not entirely dismal, however; he also cites studies that show strengths in cognitive abilities that can be attributed to searching the Internet and using similar technologies.
A recurring theme in iBrain is the issue of multitasking. Dr. Small attempts to prove that multitasking is not beneficial to productivity or attention levels. He explains that a condition called "continuous partial attention" is plaguing those that use the Internet frequently. This condition is described as "keeping tabs on everything but not really focusing on anything." This phenomena can also lead to "techno brain burnout," something that Dr. Small believes is threatening to become an epidemic if people don't become more aware of how frequent technology use can effect them.
After stating his case that technology use, particularly at addictive levels, is changing the way humans interact and empathize with each other, Dr. Small provides some self-help resources. He includes several short tests to determine strengths and weaknesses in brain function and interpersonal abilities along with exercises for improvement in these areas. He also provides helpful tips for technologies (such as e-mail and instant messaging) designed to help users be more considerate to others' feelings as well as reduce multitasking challenges. Appendices include text messaging shortcuts, common emoticons, resources for addiction, and technology toolkit resources varying from brain exercises to online file storage.
The book is helpful for both digital immigrants and digital natives, though it seems to paint digital natives in a negative light at times. Dr. Small does state that the collaborative nature of the Internet and its effect on specific parts of the brain has boosted opportunities for creative expression, something seen as a benefit to society. Most of the claims made in this book are based on small or limited studies and Dr. Small admits that research on this subject is only beginning. iBrain does a thorough job of outlining potential problems and provides many solutions to help prevent us from becoming antisocial, unfeeling humans riddled with anxiety and the inability to focus on tasks at hand.
iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi Vorgan
Dr. Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan's iBrain is a fascinating book that details how technology is changing our brains. Their main thesis is that our brains and the brains of our children are much more plastic and changeable than we have been led to believe. They differentiate between digital immigrants: people who had to learn technology such as computers and cell phones as adults, and digital natives: people who have known technology since birth. The good news for middle-aged digital immigrants is that we have the advantage over older ones and the younger natives, because our brains are plastic enough to respond to and learn new technologies than older brains, but we retain the social skills that native sometimes lack.
My son has a mild form of autism called Asperger's Syndrome, so I panicked for a moment. Did I let him watch television too much when he was younger. Play on the computer? No and no-he wasn't interested thankfully. But he is now, and I was surprised to learn that digital natives suffer some of the same symptoms as autistic individuals: lack of eye contact; a just-the-facts approach to communication, and a lack of give-and-take in conversation. So now that he's a PSP fanatic, is my son's Asperger's getting worse? I don't think so. He has enough else going on. According to iBrain, that seems to be the key. All electronics and no face time, makes for digital natives that have poor social skills, so it is very important to reinforce human connection away from electronic devices. The warning against multitasking and how is can contribute to anxiety and attention deficit disorder symptoms seem particularly relevant today when so many of us have trouble paying attention.
The book provides many resources for understanding the best uses of technology determining whether or not technology is interfering with our lives. The questionnaires designed to locate the difficulties technology are followed by tangible exercises for improving our real world connections. The authors even include a glossary of technological terms, an especially-helpful list of emoticons and texting abbreviations, and a list of professional organizations that help with cyber addictions.
The message of iBrain is not that technology is good or bad, but that it is both. Electronic devices can change the structure of our brains and leave us disconnected and lonely, but they can also help us accomplish much in terms of work, economics and social connection. For the sake of our brains, however, we must walk the fine line of being able to use and learn how to use new technologies, without losing our essential humanity.
I suppose by Small's description of Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives, I am an early immigrant or perhaps a "pioneer" --- I went online in my early 20s connecting to the first online communities (dial-up bulletin boards in the early 80s). My brain was still a little plastic then, I suppose, so I'm like someone who immigrates as a young adult.
It seems to me Dr. Small set about to write a book that would appeal to the fears of the digital immigrants, the fears of all parents, and the disparaging emotions of those who just generally feel that the world is going to the dogs.
Dr. Small's writing is full of emotionally laden language. Teenagers don't just look at computer screens, they "stare". Their music doesn't play, it "blares". Each chapter is prefaced by a short horror story about a cyberaddicted person. Do-it-yourself "assessment tests" at the back of the book ask questions that would lead most honest people to worry about themselves -- and even more likely, to fill in the answers for their spouse or child in a negative way.
Small conflates TV with computer use in much of his writing; despite their similar screens they are completely different. He reports early in the book that "a recent Kaiser study found that young people eight to eighteen years of age expose their brains to eight and a half hours of digital and video sensory stimulation each day." Note his choice of words: "expose their brains to...". Not "experience" or "use", but "expose their brains"; like exposure to radiation. His choice of words already betrays his judgment and seeks to set the reader's bias. But the study notes that only one hour of this is using the computer! Four hours is video and TV, nearly two hours is music. Less than an hour is video games. Through the book, however, Small would have the reader worry about computer use causing not only brain changes, but autism symptoms and other antisocial personality disorders. Is this likely to be the computer use, or the TV watching?
Now of course it is clear that new technology is seductive and can be addictive. It is just common sense that playing computer games that repeatedly give you a simulation of blowing someone's head off is going to affect your emotional health. In that, some games ARE worse than TV because usually once you've watched the movie once or twice you are done with it, whereas you play the game over and over for hours. On the other hand, if you watch four or more hours of schlok TV every day, you are going to be brain damaged.
But don't blame it on the Internet. Sure, some kids or adults are going to spend too much time on the Internet, or develop addictions to porn or Facebook or Ebay. Just like some kids who smoked pot really did go on to get addicted to heroin.
In summary, I think Small throws in a few interesting tidbits about brain function, but his conclusions are suspect and his tone highly judgmental. Yes, computer use is causing changes in brain wiring, just like the printing press, telephone, radio and TV, and even automobiles. And there are always people who aren't well adjusted. Why jump to the conclusion that computers are a cause rather than a refuge? Well, everybody has to make a buck -- but I'm sorry to have contributed to his income.
The author raises some very interesting points about how he and others believe there is an evolutionary change occurring in the brains of the young brought on by over-stimulation and exposure to massive amounts of fast paced information and technology. While I do not know if I agree with all of his findings (not that I have any proof to the contrary), but I have witnessed many times in my high school classroom the growing lack of empathy he says is becoming more and more prevalent in the young. He refers to this inability to read social cues in others as almost an Asperger's like condition. It is a fascinating thing to see (although probably more so from the outside looking in, than from the stand point of the teacher trying to maintain control...) the way a substantial number of kids cannot read emotions in their fellow classmates and adults. This incapacity ends up creating situations where they say vicious or inappropriate things that I do not think they would say if they knew how their words sounded or how inappropriate their statements were in the given situation.
I also found a new phrase that pretty much summed up a lot of my life in the book: Continuous Partial Attention. Coined by software executive Linda Stone to describe "the state where you are continually staying busy, keeping tabs on everything, while never really focusing on anything" (Page 18). Continuous Partial Attention Disorder is my new explanation for the years 1993-2004 if anyone asks what I was up to or accomplished.
The book shows how our mind tries to coop up with the impressions we're feeding it with. If we're feeding it with a 24-7 computer screen and "multitasking" in the digtial field, we'll develop skills in the regions of our brain that are busy while doing this. But we don't have time for other practices so for example our face to face interaction will get understimulated. Especially if you're in an age when your brain grows alot, there is both good and bad with major iBrain impact that could effect you permanent.
I liked the book, but it felt kind of "pop-science" sometimes. I don't think many would agree that the human brain could evolve so much over just one generation (digitalnatives generation) that the book shows. But it was really intresting reading and gave me alot of stuff to work with when it comes to planning a workday in front of the computer without getting tired and zombielike 7 hrs later.
Read and discuss! But don't expect it to be course litterature in medicin.
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