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iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind

By Gary Small & Gigi Vorgan;Collins Living, 2008;256 pp.; US $24.95;ISBN: 978-0-06-134033-8

Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Gary Small, of the University of California at Los Angeles, invented the first brain scan that showed physical evidence of brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease in living patients. He’s since focused his research on young and old brains, revealing that technological overexposure causes significant changes in neural circuitry. In his 2008 book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, he reports that Web surfing, multitasking, and information bombardment can accelerate learning and creativity but may also increase attention deficit disorder, social isolation, and Internet addiction.

Small, the director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Center, used functional MRI scans to track brain blood flow in middle-aged and older adults surfing the Web. He noted that Internet searching stimulates frontal lobe circuits, which are responsible for decision making. Other studies suggest that video gaming both increases and decreases activity in the frontal lobe and the amygdala, which handles emotional response, thereby decreasing social interactivity. ”Technology is not only changing our lives; it’s changing our brains,” says Small.

Here are some suggestions Small offers to ward off techno-overload:

Vary tasks at a reasonable pace. Switching tasks too often slows down brain efficiency over time, while continuing a single task for too long can fatigue the brain. For example, instead of tackling all your eâ¿¿mail at once, take a break after 20 or 30 minutes, and complete the rest later in the day. Although you may feel as though you are getting more done, rapidly alternating tasks is less efficient and leads to errors.

Set boundaries. Limit the time you will spend using cellphones, computers, and video games.

Balance on- and offline time. Tackle business and creative issues both technologically and socially through in-person and online collaborations.

In other words, go outside. Hang out with your friends and colleagues—in person.

 

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