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Is your computer changing your brain? 

Studies are showing that children ages 8 to 18 expose their brains to eight and half hours of digital and video sensory stimulation a day! A great article in Scientific American Mind by Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan says that, “Even using a computer for Web searches for just an hour a day changes the way the brain processes information.”  Here is my summary and comments on that recent article entitled. “Meet your iBrain.”

How much time do you spend on your computer each day? Be aware that we have very adaptable brains that are reshaping neural processing to change the way you think, feel and focus. When you search the internet you might focus on a fact on a website for less than two seconds before moving on to the next one.  The front of the brain (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex if you want to know the five dollar term) that helps us make decisions and integrates complex information and short term memory are activated, so we can make quick go or no-go decisions. Right now you are even saying should I finish reading Patti’s article or should I jump to something else? Stay here and learn that we are creating the ability to have continuous partial attention. Linda Stone who coined the term in 1998 says Continual Partial Attention allows us to keep tabs on everything, but never really focus on anything. I know you have a techno addict. The coworker that can’t seem to stay focused as he does what I call a hip check to look at his blackberry while he is supposed to be having a conversation with you, the sweetie that surfs the net and watches streaming CNN during dinner, or the teenager that listens to his iPod while texting on his blackberry and talking on his cell. Well guess what? This rewiring for partial attention causes a techno addiction. We stay busy attending. We want that new bit of news or information to keep us excited and high and it feeds our self worth. Yep, it feeds the part of the hippocampus that enlarges our ego. It actually makes us cocky to rudely answer a cell phone call when we are in a meeting. Techno business is a dark chocolate, caffeine and heroin ego boosting high. It makes us feel important to give a hip check of our blackberry at a meal. But when we stay techno high too long we get a unique kind of brain strain that causes the body to secrete stress hormones and overtime the strain and stress create depression and even permanently reshape the underlying brain structure. Techno addiction does not make us happy. It doesn’t make the people we interact with happy either.

At a keynote speech I gave to female leaders in Chicago this week, I mentioned how digital technology is affecting the brain. Many of the women gathered around with questions and then we began discussing the problems in office relationships that are caused by the lack of interpersonal savvy, and the problems with children. Unfortunately when we rewire our brains for techno business we don’t use or create the neural pathways used for human interaction. We stop learning how to behave with people. We are creating science fiction worthy, high functioning brains. I am worried. What is the use of powerful techno brains if we can’t have an intimate conversation, a loving relationship or even to ask someone politely to pass the salt? I think we can maintain the need to have face to face conversations. I think we can turn off technology. I think we can still have picnics.

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