rewired-brainWe keep hearing that technology has rewired our brains. I’m not sure it has rewired mine, although I spend more time with tech than most people. But I am pretty convinced that my sons’ brains are wired differently.

Sure, I accept the idea that neuroplasticity means our brains can change because of new experiences – even at my advanced age. But is tech (mostly the Internet and interactive technologies).

Not all the changes are positive. Some are praiseworthy. Some can go either way.

It’s possible that tech is helping our brain’s ability to organize. It is said that it frees our minds for deeper thinking. I feel even more disorganized lately. Tech makes my mind even busier.

Some researchers think all this tech is wrecking our attention spans and making us less creative.

But the part of an article by Rebecca Hiscott that caught my attention was pointing out that people who grew up with the tech (call them Millennials, the Internet Generation or whatever) had their brains wired early on.

Rewiring – like all rehab work – is harder and less effective.  For example, these younger and very plastic brains  are much more impatient when it comes to anything analog.

The general thing I hear is that young people are much more visual than their parents’ generation.  Of course, being that I was the “TV Generation,” I always heard that television was doing bad things to my brain. A study found that adults over the age of 55 who had grown up in a household with a black and white television set were more likely to dream in black and white, but younger participants, nearly always experienced their dreams in color. The American Psychological Association seconded these findings in 2011.

One study found that first-person shooter video games (Halo, Call of Duty) can boost decision-making and visual skills because they force players to make snap decisions based on visual cues. Better visuospatial attention skills. Strategy-based games seem to improve the brain’s “cognitive flexibility,” or the ability to switch between tasks. Younger people were supposed to be better at multitasking, but newer studies seem to show that none of at any age is really good at multitasking. Something always suffers.

Of course, I have been watching color film and color TV for a long time too, but my dreams are pretty much in b&w.  I have read a lot about dreams and it seems more likely that we dream in b&w but include some colors when we describe them – and that those few colors signal important elements.

Did tech do something to our brains to encourage FOMO (fear of missing out)? That is this maybe-anxiety that might be brought on by social media use. Does skimming through all those Facebook, Instagram and other pages, pictures and posts of “friends'” lives make you feel like you’re missing out?

I’m not sure I am buying into the evidence that looking at pictures of friends’ meals online makes your own meal taste bland by comparison.

Along with the fascination for dreams is my issues with sleep.  I am guilty of falling asleep with my laptop on my lap or reading something on my iPad.

All the electronic light in the house at night (even the seemingly minor glowing of LEDs on a clock, microwave, cable box, router etc.) seem to impact our body’s internal light cues and maybe even that melatonin that we need to fall asleep and that comes on with the reduced light of night. Unless all the tech around us (including that big TV screen – that blue light from screens is the worst) is fooling our brains into thinking it’s still daytime. So much for our circadian rhythms (your internal sleep clock).

My memory has degraded. I blame age, but lots of research shows that because we have Google and Siri and electronic contact lists and files, we don’t work our memory as much.

A 2007 study found that the younger respondents were less likely to remember standard personal information like birthdays or phone numbers. I was hearing 40 years ago that calculators were decreasing basic mathematical skills. True?  Or did they allow for more complex math?

Can you navigate when you drive without the help of GPS?

And what is to blame for shortening attention spans and the rise of attention-deficits? Television got the blame for that back in the 1950s and 60s and social media and the Internet are being blamed now.

Is that why people of all ages (but especially younger people) find it hard to focus long enough to read a book? “Surfing” the Internet really does mean skimming along the top and edges of that massive wave of information.

Many of the studies have mixed results. The tech improves our “cognitive surplus” and the study also shows that it inhibits our ability to rein in impulsive or aggressive behavior. Those games that force fast decision-making also inhibited “proactive executive control” over fast reactions and impulses.

Apple-think-different

Remember these Apple ads that asked us to Think Different? Do you feel that your brain has been rewired to think differently because of tech the past few decades?

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