Mind Change - are digital technologies changing our brains?

A new book believes we should pay greater attention to how technology may be changing the wiring of our brains.

Baroness Susan Greenfield is a scientist and broadcaster specialising in the physiology of the brain.  Her latest book explores whether evidence suggests that digital technology is changing the way our brains are wired.

The human brain is astonishingly plastic and mouldable.  A five-year study concluded that London's black cab drivers had larger memory centres than most people and that the hard work and constant practice of 'The Knowledge' of London’s streets was responsible. 

As we learn and develop, our brain is busy making connections which are entirely personal to each of us.  This development is triggered by our experiences.  Dementia is almost a mirror image of this process – the connections our brain has previously formed begin to disappear and lose their personal meaning.

What is technology doing to our brains?

Greenfield thinks we should consider how digital technologies are affecting our attention span, our interpersonal skills, our relationships, our imagination and our sense of self.  Yet we should also be aware that the brain is an astonishing tool, capable of change and development in relatively short timeframes.

Baroness Susan Greenfield was speaking at the RSA in London. In her opening remarks she asked the audience not to tweet - a request which proved beyond my neighbour who was checking his timeline within the first 20 minutes.  Greenfield’s suggestion is that the technology and the communication tools are changing the way we experience ourselves and each other.  Writing for NPR, Marcelo Gleiser believes that the drive to share and record is leading to a loss of 'full, personal engagement' with real events and people.

“The gadgets are awesome…. But they should not define the way we live – only complement it”.

You can read more about Baroness Greenfield here