Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Saving for a Brainy Day

Rhetorical appeals that involve the status of the brain are designed to be particularly attention-getting, although perhaps not as ubiquitous in our society as those that target issues about preservation and maintenance of the body. Last month I wrote about some of the supposedly scientific arguments being made about how social computing may be rewiring young brains and the tendencies of those research to assume negative effects a priori.

In "This is Your Brain of Facebook" Seed magazine, writer Rob Mitchum not only argues that some of the doom forecasters are offering up pseudo-science to get attention, but also claims that researchers such as Gary Small of UCLA and Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester may be on to something when examining possibly positive neurological effects from everyday activities like Google searching or playing videogames.

Small and Bavelier’s research suggests that actually researching, rather than just baselessly speculating about, the effect of popular media on brain activity and function reveals more benefits than ill consequences. Although both researchers caution that the brain’s limited resources mean that strengthening certain regions and processes may weaken others, that trade-off still remains worlds away from the dire warnings from Greenfield and others before her.

As if to prove the point, last week, the same publication that trumpeted Susan Greenfield's largely anecdotal conclusions about social network sites, The Mirror, is now presenting another argument with an appeal to scientific authority about brain-related disorders to be had from social media: "Twitter can make you immoral, claim scientists"

(Thanks to Jonathan Alexander for the link!)

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Anonymous Rachel Lee said...

You might have seen this already, but in an article for "Discover" ("How Google Is Making Us Smarter"), Carl Zimmer writes about the brain and digital technologies in terms of philosophy and evolution. He uses philosophical ideas about the "extended mind" to establish that our minds and memories already extend into our environments, and that Google and Wikipedia (as similar extensions of the mind) therefore aren't really anything new.

He then goes on to discuss brain studies with tool-using primates as evidence that the mind's enthusiasm for new tools is natural. He also talks a little about brain computer interfaces, and concludes that while some of these new/future technologies might have drawbacks, we can't be afraid of (or resistant to) our changing brains.


5:44 AM  

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