Many Young People "Digitally Hard-wired" Since Childhood
A new book by a U.S. psychiatrist argues that new technology may be physically changing the way our brains work.
In iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind (HarperCollins 2008), Dr. Gary Small and wife Gigi Vorgan argue that young people who have grown up with videogames, text messaging, websites, and the other trappings of the virtual world are beginning to show signs of behavioral differences compared to previous generations.
Small, the Director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, says research shows that twenty-somethings are developing unique brains in response to a nonstop cycle of information overload. Still, while this high-speed mental activity may be leading to a cohort of wired overachievers, it does have its negative side effects: attention deficit disorder, social isolation, and online addiction, among others.
The authors write: "Besides influencing how we think, digital technology is altering how we feel, how we behave, and the way in which our brains function."
In an interview with the Associated Press, Small admits that his theory has not been proven but that constant exposure to digital technologies most likely is at the root of much of the social dysfunction witnessed in classrooms and workplaces by the younger set.
Small calls this group digital natives, those who have been "digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood." He says his book is aimed at helping digital natives improve their social skills, as well as making others aware of the implications of new technology on behavior.
What does Small think is the solution to too much immersive technology? It's a page right out of the behavioral psychology textbook: adaptation. And he and his co-author offer a "technology toolkit" with suggestions (such as "aerobicizing your mind") for those who have become overloaded with high-tech distractions.
If this all sounds like a contemporary update of past arguments against the perils of new technology to young minds (see the dangers of television circa 1970, for example), it's because it is. As with previous generations, youngsters today will most likely turn out fine in the long run, a little quirkier and more awkward perhaps but still just as responsible and healthy.
Just in case, though, it would not be a bad thing to remind those reaching maturity now that they need to spend a little more quality time with their friends and family in the real world.