Information and Communication Technology (ICT) profoundly affects the brains and humanity of almost everyone in the US. With the advent of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), new trends and iterations are making their way into our world. These include robots, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and augmented humans (the merging of humans and technology). How these will impact us is unknown. What is clear is that research on our current technology is showing profound effects on our brains and humanity. These will only increase as every object takes up residence in the Cloud, and the Cloud rains back on our world.
Our current digital technology insinuates itself into every waking moment of our lives. We “swipe away” days, months, even years of real human-to-human contact while trapped inside the worldwide web. (A poignant visualization of this can be seen here.) And now, with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), the situation has become yet more dire. We and our children will be spending yet more time interacting with, and immersed in, technology. And time spent with technology is time lost or diminished from connection with others and the natural world – a significant sacrifice to make.
In a recent interview on Morning News, pediatric occupational therapist, Cris Rowan, shared some startling figures. Research shows 0 to 2-year-olds are getting about two and a half hours of screen time a day. 3 to 5-year-olds, about four and a half hours. 6 to12-year-olds, get seven and a half hours. And our teens get a whopping nine hours a day! Rowan asks rhetorically, “What are our kids NOT doing while they are on these devices?” Her answer: “Kids are not getting enough movement, touch, human connection, and nature.”
There are serious and devastating downsides to the impacts of technology on our brains and humanity. Research journalist, Mary Aiken, described being on a train where she observed a mother nursing her infant. The infant’s eyes were affixed adoringly on the mother’s face while the mother, immersed in cyberspace, stared relentlessly at her smart phone for 30 long minutes. The loss to this child and to the mother is irretrievable.
Where are we headed?
Following is a small sampling of ways technology impacts our brains and humanity, and what some experts are saying.
Seduced by their personal portal into cyber space (aka smart phone), many people are going about life now oblivious to the sights, sounds, textures, and sometimes traffic lights in the world around them. So two cities in Germany – Augsburg and Cologne – saw the need to install traffic lights in the ground to protect “pedtextrians” (yes, those who walk while texting). Glued to their smart phones, eyes focused downward, pedtextrians might not see a street light, but would hopefully not miss a traffic light embedded in the ground!
Those little devices…in our pocket are so powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.” Essentially, we have handed over to the wireless industry the power to define who we are and what we do – in short, our humanity. Following are some of the ways that excessive digital connectivity has been shown to adversely impact our brains, relationships, and humanity.
Science historian George Dyson, muses, “What if the cost of machines that think, is people who don’t?”
Frank Schirrmacher, editor and co-publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, asks whether, in light of the changes that technology has wrought on humanity, we are turning into a new species – informavores.
According to Maurice Conti, we are on the cusp of a new era – the Augmented Age. In a TEDx talk, The Future of Human Augmentation, Conti predicts:
In this new era, your natural human capabilities are going to be augmented by computational systems that help you think, robotic systems that help you make, and digital nervous systems that connect you to the world far beyond your natural senses.
How would this global metamorphosis into high-speed cyborgs impact our brains and humanity? These and many other questions are deeply troubling to those of us who treasure life in the natural world.
Essentially, we have handed over to the wireless industry, our government, and “futurists” the power to define who we are and what we do – in short, our brains and humanity. Following are some of the ways that excessive digital connectivity has already been shown to adversely impact our brains, relationships, and humanity.
Please also see
- Center for Human Technology http://humanetech.com
- Where is the Love? http://whatis5g.info/brains-and-humanity/2017/10/where-is-the-love/
- Addicted to iLove, https://alisonmain.me/2017/12/11/addicted-to-ilove/
5 ways technology impacts our brains and humanity:
What is digital addiction and how prevalent a condition is it? In an article from Newsweek Magazine, Is the Internet Making Us Crazy? What the New Research Says, author Tony Docoupil writes that the average teen in 2012 “processed” 3700 text messages a month. Cris Rowan tells us that the average teen spends nine hours a day on digital devices. According to Net Addiction, a website dedicated to Internet addiction, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), refers to
any online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment.
IAD, though not listed in the DSM-5, 2013 manual, is nonetheless considered a bonafide behavioral addiction by many professionals. (Please note that Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), is included in the DSM-5 manual, and is now officially recognized by the World Health Organization as a mental disorder.) In a Medscape Medical News article following the American Psychiatric Association’s 2014 annual meeting, Brain Abnormalities Linked to ‘Internet Addiction’, author Pauline Anderson states that about 26.3% of American youth suffer from IAD. According to Dr. Jadapalle, this is more than alcohol and illicit drug use disorders. Dr. Kimberly Young, psychologist and internationally known expert on Internet addiction, and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction writes:
In 2014, the first Internet Congress on Internet Addiction Disorders was held in Milan showing that Korea is the leader [and] has established the first comprehensive, national prevention and re-education program for Screen Addictions. China and Japan utilize inpatient care with Internet fasting camps. Australia developed the first inpatient adolescent treatment program. Italy has inpatient centers in Milan and Rome. France uses early education in schools and in the U.S., Internet Gaming Addiction is now listed in Section 3 of the DSM-5. In 2013, Dr. Young founded the first inpatient Internet Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center at the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, Pa under the supervision of a multidisciplinary clinical team for adults 18 years and over.
Dr. Alter, associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University and author of Irresistible:The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, stated in recent NY Times interview on digital addiction:
For the book, I spoke with a young man who sat in front of his computer playing a video game for 45 consecutive days! The compulsive playing had destroyed the rest of his life. He ended up at a rehabilitation clinic in Washington State, reSTART, where they specialize in treating young people with gaming dependencies.
The late Dr. Clifford Nass, formerly a professor at Stanford University and renowned authority on human-computer interaction, suggested a way to rein-in overindulgence in digital connectivity:
We’ve got to make face-to-face time sacred, and we have to bring back the saying we used to hear all the time, and now never hear, ‘Look at me when I talk to you.’
Hardly an easy task with IoT robots increasingly taking up residence in our homes, and schools selling out to the Tech Ed industry.
Stare into the Lights My Pretties 2 hour documentary written and directed by Jordan Brown | Dec. 3rd, 2017
This documentary gives voice to what we all know deep inside.
Stare into the Lights My Pretties is a wake-up call to humanity about the corporate driven shift we are in the throes of – from life to screens. .
What are the cumulative impacts on people, society and the environment? What may come next if this culture is left unchecked, to its end trajectory, and is that what we want? *Stare Into The Lights My Pretties* investigates these questions with an urge to return to the real physical world, to form a critical view of technological escalation driven by rapacious and pervasive corporate interest.
If you don’t have time to watch the full documentary, here is a link to a 26 minute abridged version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2b9TjaDmbk
PHYSIOLOGIC CHANGES TO THE BRAIN:
Not only does Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) alter thoughts and feelings, but it can actually alters the grey matter of our brains.
Addiction Help Center , a website dedicated to helping with many forms of addiction, writes:
Internet addiction alters the volume of the brain. The brain changes are similar to those produced by alcohol and cocaine addiction. IAD shrinks the brain’s gray and white matter fibers which results in changes to emotional processing and brain functioning.
Gray matter atrophy: Multiple studies have shown atrophy (shrinkage or loss of tissue volume) in gray matter areas (where “processing” occurs) in Internet/gaming addiction (Zhou 2011, Yuan 2011, Weng 2013, and Weng 2012). Areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control (“getting stuff done”). Volume loss was also seen in the striatum, which is involved in reward pathways and the suppression of socially unacceptable impulses. A finding of particular concern was damage to an area known is the insula, which is involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships.
Dr. Dunckley goes on to describe how the white matter of our brains is compromised as well by Internet Addiction:
Research has also demonstrated loss of integrity to the brain’s white matter (Lin 2012, Yuan 2011, Hong 2013 and Weng 2013). ‘Spotty’ white matter translates into loss of communication within the brain, including connections to and from various lobes of the same hemisphere, links between the right and left hemispheres, and paths between higher (cognitive) and lower (emotional and survival) brain centers. White matter also connects networks from the brain to the body and vice versa. Interrupted connections may slow down signals, ‘short--circuit’ them, or cause them to be erratic (‘misfire’).
More research is needed to understand the full effects of IAD on our brains. But it is already eminently clear that excessive digital connectivity alters the physiology of our brain. What will the impacts on the physiology of our brain be when the IoT is fully operational and humans are engaged with technology 24/7? And when we’re merged with technology?
SHALLOW THINKING AND MULTITASKING:
Research shows that digital technology is changing the way we think. Both multitasking and the fast paced short, fragmented communications of digital technology lead to shallower, less in-depth thinking.
Multitasking refers to doing two or more activities at once. With the advent of technology, people are increasingly dividing their attention between multiple digital devices and the real world. Humans have a limited amount of mental “space” available for focus or attention. We can do two or more simple tasks at the same time. But research consistently shows that the human brain cannot manage two or more complex tasks at once. A concentrating brain needs to filter out extraneous input, not invite distractions. By acclimating ourselves to dividing our attention between technology and the real world, we are changing the way we think and communicate.
Quick communications such as text messages, Facebook posts, etc. “steal” our minds leaving scant time for in depth focus and uninterrupted face to face communications. Consuming fast tech is much like eating fast foods. With both, we think we are receiving, but what we get is most often nutrient deficient – The stuff of life with its stuffing taken out. In a sense, we are starving ourselves emotionally. Not fully satiated, we mindlessly go back for more. We “snack” throughout the day on digital treats – ”Tweets”. An addictive cycle is set in motion. As Sherry Turkle puts it in, Alone Together,
“In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void, but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.”
The medium changes our minds
Even when Internet, texting, and social media are not being used to multitask, research shows they still contribute toward a shift to a shallower way of thinking.
NY Times Best Seller author, Nicholas Carr, explains how the Internet is changing the way we think and how we process information.
“Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts….” The Shallows, (p. 10)
The linear, or deep-attention mind ponders less information, but very deeply. The hyper-attention mind scans and aggregates a lot of information, but superficially. Nicholas Carr explains that when using the shallower, or hyper-attention way of processing information, the learning is not sufficient to navigate a transfer from short to long-term memory. Additionally, the ability to recall and apply that learning in other contexts is impaired. it’s in long-term memory where associations, concepts, critical thinking, and creativity arise.
N. Katherine Hayles, professor emeritus at UCLA, in Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes has a different take on deep attention and hyper attention arguing that both have their advantages and disadvantages:
Deep attention is essential for coping with complex phenomena such as mathematical theorems, challenging literary works, and complex musical compositions; hyper attention is useful for its flexibility in switching between different information streams, its quick grasp of the gist of material, and its ability to move rapidly among and between different kinds of texts. (How We Think, p. 69)
Whether one way of thinking is superior to the other is perhaps not the most important question to ask. Presumably, optimal results are achieved when a given task is matched to the thinking style best suited to it. But if we are losing our ability for deep thought and creativity, or our capacity to be present with others and ourselves, that would indeed be cause for concern.
IMPAIRMENT OF SOCIAL SKILLS:
There is mounting evidence that excessive online communication hinders the development of social skills in young people. As people engage increasingly in cyber space, they disconnect from one another and the real world. With fewer face to face communications, young people miss out on learning to read social cues such as body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact, timing, and so forth.
Lack of social skills has become so prevalent that social skills classes are now being offered at universities. MIT students can now enroll in Charm School to better hone their social skills such as how to make a good first impression, the mechanics of tying a bow tie,and the angle at which silverware should be placed on a plate when done eating. The University of Iowa offers a course in dinner etiquette, and students at Boston College can enroll in a course that teaches how to ask someone out on a date.
IoT robots, virtual reality, augmented reality, and merging humans with technology are all relatively new, so it’s difficult to predict how these will impact our social development. In a recent Forbes article, Goodbye Loneliness, Hello Sexbots! How Can Robots Transform Human Sex?, author Reenita Das predicts within a decade or so, robots will be as ubiquitous as cellphones are today. Das envisions:
Essentially, a decade from now, you could walk into a restaurant and be served by a robot waiter, be greeted by a robot receptionist at the hotel, be ticketed for jaywalking by a Robocop or walk into a hospital, a departmental store or even an office and be helped around by a robot helper!
For some as yet unknown reason, humans are increasingly looking to “find comfort in robotic arms,” as Das puts it. Why the high demand? She posits there are five distinct groups, each with their own reasons: The social misfits; the bereaved and the elderly; the long-distance couple; the unhappy spouse; the selfish bachelors.
A recent Washington Post article, How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants, quotes Sandra Calvert, a Georgetown University psychologist and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center:
How they react and treat this nonhuman entity is, to me, the biggest question….And how does that subsequently affect family dynamics and social interactions with other people?
The latest from Mattel is Aristotle, a voice assistant/baby-monitor that “grows with your child”. Maybe some people would use Aristotle, but intuitively, it seems obvious that Aristotle would interfere with parent-child bonding and healthy social development. Thankfully, after a campaign was launched by The Story of Stuff, opposing Aristotle, Mattel withdrew its plans.
Does social-media help or hinder connection between people?
In connecting more and more online, are we are losing our ability for genuine connection with, and understanding of one another? A UCLA psychology study suggests this might be the case. According to writer Stuart Wolpert,
UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.
But there’s also another side to the story. When getting to know someone for the first time, many people instinctively feel, to some degree or another, shyness or “dis- ease.” At the same time, we also have a deep instinctual longing to connect with one another. Social media offers the perfect platform to balance these conflicting human traits. As Sherry Turkle notes in her 2012 New York Times Op Ed piece, “In the silence of connection, people are comforted by being in touch with a lot of people — carefully kept at bay.”
Online communication also offers a comfortable way for shyer people to “break the ice” when getting to know others. In a Washington Post article, author Michael S. Rosenwald shares the story of Josh Chiles:
Josh Chiles is shy. In a gathering of unfamiliar people, he often waits for someone, anyone, to ask him a question or make small talk. At a party, bar or restaurant, “I just sit there, hoping someone will talk to me,’ he said. ‘I wait.” But on Facebook, the 32-year-old Woodbridge resident is Mr. Personality. He constantly refreshes his status, comments on others’ updates, posts pictures, makes jokes and registers his likes. More important, when he sees his digital connections in person, he said, his shyness often disappears. “There is no doubt that Facebook has improved my life in building relationships with other people.”
Whether and to what degree technology hinders our social skills and our ability to read emotions may not as yet be clear. But no need to worry – technology to the rescue. According to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, technology has now made it [eerily] possible to read human emotions through wireless technology.
The new device, named ‘EQ-Radio,’ is 87 percent accurate at detecting whether a person is excited, happy, angry or sad—all without on-body sensors or facial-recognition software.
There are already robots that read” and respond to human emotions, and roboticists are hard at work honing this application.
If technology can indeed cause a loss of social skills, is it wise to ramp up our interactions with technology with the Internet of Things? Or would it be more sensible to pull back and reassess where we are headed before unleashing yet more?
The effects of technology on our brains and humanity coupled with the serious health effects, privacy violations, and potential for hacking of robots, we are doing a great disservice to our children, by our reckless rush toward a robotic future driven largely by industry profit and an uninformed government.
LOSS OF EMPATHY
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES ON IMPACTS OF TECHNOLOGY ON BRAINS AND HUMANITY