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Is technology reshaping our brain?

Susan Greenfield has been worried about it for some time. Gary
Small discusses the perils associated with it in one of his latest books.

Have we in fact created our own “Trojan Horse”?

Technology: It’s all that wonderful new gadgetry and electronics increasingly
available to us in a myriad of different shapes and forms and we are lapping it
up, loving the new tools and applications that inform, educate and entertain
us.

But does it come at a cost?

While we enjoy the many benefits all this new technology can
provide, the question remaining to be answered is – “what is technology doing to our brain?”

Our brains have been quietly evolving over thousands of years and
until relatively recently remained largely misunderstood. Its vast capabilities
have not been truly appreciated until the advent of technology, which allowed
scientists to explore for the first time what is actually happening on our
brains. FMRI, PET scans and other imaging techniques have revealed visual
images of our brains lighting up when thinking. For the first time we have a
far greater understanding of how and why we think the way we do.

One of the greatest concepts now understood about our brain is
that it is “plastic”. It
is dynamic, constantly rewiring and adapting, in response to all the
information it receives 24/7.

It is this very “plasticity”
which makes our current use of technology potentially dangerous. Our increasing
addiction to technology, the use of smartphones, Internet and TV is influencing
our brains to the extent that some have even suggested that technology is
literally “re-wiring ” our brain.

In some academic circles, concern is growing particularly in
regards to child brain development.

Current guidelines in the US, Australia and UK advise that
children under the age of 2 should not be watching TV at all because of the detrimental effect on brain development particularly in terms of
the ability to pay attention.

Yet how often do you now see toddlers and young children being
entertained (or babysat) by smart phones and computer tablets?

Results from a recent study showed that 30% of 2-5 year olds know
how to operate a smart phone or tablet computer and 61% can play a basic
computer game.

It will soon no longer be the quip that you ask a teenager how to
help you (as an adult) with your computer, it could be your pre-schooler!

The trouble is, it’s all so convenient and fun and hey everyone
else has one, so why not you?

So why the
concern?

Firstly all this technology is addictive to our brain. Every time we win a point on a computer
game or open an email in response to that little email notification tool, our
brain is rewarded by a small squirt of dopamine. Dopamine is the
neurotransmitter associated with reward. When we feel good, get acknowledged or
receive a gift, our level of dopamine goes up and we feel good. The problem is
the brain likes to feel rewarded, especially if the reward is a bit
unpredictable, so it seeks more of the same – which is how technology addiction
builds.

It is estimated that 10% of young Koreans has a serious technology
addiction – meaning they spend up to 17
hours a day
playing videogames. The Korean Government has set up 240
counselling centres and hospital programs designed purely to cope with this
problem.

In Korea it is considered “normal” to spend up to 6
hours a day gaming.

If concerned, there are some websites now available to assist
problem video gaming: check out www.WOWdetox.com

Think that’s not going to be a problem for you?

Then why is it over 30% of smart phone users are connected BEFORE they get out of bed in the
morning?

And why is it more and more parents are having to have the
conversation with their teenagers about NOT
taking their mobile phones to bed with them (because of the sleep disruption of
multiple texts and conversations happening overnight).

If you have ever lived with a grumpy teenager who is just hormonal
– try adding in sleep deprivation to see what effect that has on grumpiness
levels!

And why are adults spending over 8 hours a day on screen time? This
is more than any other activity we do, other than sleeping.

Next time you take a flight somewhere, watch and see what the
first thing people do once the plane has landed. Yep, everyone is madly fishing
out their mobile phone to check they haven’t missed any calls or texting their
arrival.

Many airlines are now allowing mobile phone use on flights. Soon
there will be even less opportunity for respite from all this technology. Sigh.

Too much screen time interferes with sleep, diminishes attention
and can lead to frontal lobe dysfunction from information overload.

Your brain wasn’t designed to handle all this information in the
way we are currently asking it to do.

The frontal lobes are your executive suite where your brain
handles all the important thinking about thinking – the planning, decision
making, strategic attention, working memory, judgement and innovation. It’s
also where you have your brains’ brakes -the ability to choose not to act, say
or respond to a given stimulus if you choose not to.

The trouble is the frontal lobes are also the youngest part of the
brain in evolutionary terms and extremely fragile, energy hungry and slow to
operate in comparison to other parts of the brain, such as the limbic system.

Information overload fatigues the “thinking” part of your
brain and can also lead to a stress response (more anxiety) and higher cortisol
levels which can be toxic to your brain cells. Not a good thing for your best
performance.

So whilst technology can be an absolute boon, (it is hard to
imagine now living in a world without computers, robotics, and smart phones,)
it can also be a hazard if you allow yourself to become addicted.

A good way to start is to identify those areas where you believe
it could already be a problem or potentially become a problem. Then to find ways to adopt technology breaks.

The Dean of a local University here in W.A. recently asked her
colleagues to stop communicating by email and to go back to face-to-face
communication or the phone. Whilst some were a little aghast at her suggestion
– she has a very valid point.

In the same way exercise physiologists train people to increase
their physical fitness you can improve your brain fitness with interval training.

Basically this involves scheduling in time during your day when
you switch off the technology and work in a technology free zone. You can determine the time – try 15 minutes
or half an hour to start with- and see what results you experience. It may lead
you to increase your productivity through enhanced concentration and lack of
interruptions.

 

Now wouldn’t that be nice.

 

 

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