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iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 14, 2008
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From School Library Journal
According to Vorgan (The Memory Bible) and Small, one of America's leading neuroscientists, digital technology has altered the neural circuitry in human brains and triggered an evolutionary process in just one generation. The authors identify the inherent problems and challenges this poses, providing a technology toolkit filled with strategies to preserve one's humanity and keep up with the latest technology. They make their case based on abundant research in the areas of health, psychology, pediatrics, education, business, and technology. Their exercises include developing face-to-face communication skills as well as mastering electronic games. A compelling as well as timely read, this is highly recommended for all libraries.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"A book about your brain that should make you think-twice." (Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock )
"A valuable road map for the race to stay on track during the current evolution of the brain." (Terry Semel, CEO, Windsor Media; former CEO, Yahoo! )
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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.
I do think the authors tend to generalize too much and for people who are very familiar with computers at times he may come across as condescending. However, for people who are totally unfamiliar with computers, there are useful tips.
It includes some exercises and resources for obtaining more information about this rapidly changing topic. Every parent who is not proficient with technology should read this book, as well as those interested in how these advances are changing their child's brain.
I was expecting more in depth scientific data/studies to be presented. So far, a short reference to an FMRI study on brain activation while doing a google search contrasting the computer savvy and computer ignorant. Big surprise, there is a difference which eventually diminishes as the ignorant learns. Has nothing to do with a fundamental change in our brain development due to digital input/interaction, My first thought was "It is just learning". I would postulate a similar study conducted of a person learning to drive a car, bounce a basketball, learning to walk would produce similar results. Yes I know you can not drive a car in an MRI machine.
I had issues when presented with a few high level paragraphs talking about Natural Selection and Evolution leading into an equating of thought process change due to digital input as Evolution. What kind of scientific conclusion is that? Will the neurology of the next generation born be fundamentally different to what has gone before? Are genetic modifications occurring? Another point - The gap between the "Digital Immigrants" and "Digital Natives" (really good terms by the way), will be gone in one generation. Sorry, assumes that the current state of digital communication is at the pinnacle. My yet to be born grandchildren will laugh at the experience of my children (natives) just as my children laugh at me now.
I was interested in the supposition that personal interaction decreased as digital interaction increased, but found not facts to back up the statement. I wonder about how the abbreviation of language might affect future communications, I worry that the quantity of communication has lowered the quality of communication (someone could post a direct communique from God with the true meaning of life on facebook right now and perhaps get a dozen "I like it"' replies in between 2 dozen farmville fruits for sale). On and on.. the topic is deserving of more research and perhaps this book will lead to more work in the field.
I really was hoping to be challenged and enlightened by this book. I am not. Perhaps I am not the intended audience.