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This Is Your Brain On…Tech?

A 2010 New York Times article entitled “Attached To Technology And Paying a Price” explains how, yes, our brains have been changed by technology. And not just our brains, but our habits, our views, our relationships and even our lives. When we, in the 60’s consumed only 4 hours of media, and now consume a staggering 12 hours of media a day (counting media we consume at the same time on its own timer), there has obviously been a radical transformation afoot in our culture. It is difficult to know whether we are driving the technology or the technology is driving us.

In the article, Matt Richtel also debunks the notion that our brains are capable of true multi-tasking–a “finding” that I am rather disturbed to hear, though this isn’t the first time I’ve been exposed to such findings. The reasons I am upset to ‘learn’ it is because it’s something I’ve feared for years now: I’m really not as productive when I’m doing two (or ten) things at once.

My daily habits do involve bouncing between Twitter and Facebook and CNN and CNET and a million other sites and apps, and though I feel I give a good deal of attention to each when it matters, I never find myself able to give anything 100% of my brain. I seem physically incapable of it, in fact, which makes me tend to believe the ‘science’ behind such findings. I even downloaded a Google Chrome extension called “StayFocused” to help me limit my time on “my sites” each day…but I’ve already done my best to disable or limit its power to limit me.

In the article, everyone from Stanford researchers to learned doctors and scientists gets in on the act of speculating whether or not we’re wired for this time of response to stimuli or if it is, indeed, an evolutionary thing: there is definitely no consensus. As one Stanford professor pointed out, he has a near Pavlovian response to hearing the ‘ding’ of the bell indicating a new message in his inbox…and I doubt he is alone in this response. Though for many youth today, it isn’t their inboxes but the vibration or sound that indicates a new text which they cannot ignore. Indeed, I honestly can’t recall seeing any of my adolescent family members or any of the hundreds of my former high school students ignore an incoming text save for those rarest of occasions.

**As an aside, the husband/father depicted in the article who literally seems incapable of putting down his tech-toys, be it for a vacation with family or his own honeymoon is a disturbing commentary on our culture that I hope doesn’t become too widespread, lest the divorce rate climb to 100%…