Your Brain on Computers – Studying the Brain Off the Grid, Professors Find Clarity

Partial map of the Internet based on the January 15, 2005 data found on opte.org. Source: Matt Britt (CC)

Partial map of the Internet based on the January 15, 2005 data found on opte.org. Source: Matt Britt (CC)

Sounds like a good way to expense your summer vacation for these scientists! But on the other hand, the research may actually be very instructive as to how much time we should spend connected to computers and the Internet. Report from the New York Times:

…Mr. Braver, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, was one of five neuroscientists on an unusual journey. They spent a week in late May in this remote area of southern Utah, rafting the San Juan River, camping on the soft banks and hiking the tributary canyons.

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects…

Some of the scientists say a vacation like this hardly warrants much scrutiny. But the trip’s organizer, David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, says that studying what happens when we step away from our devices and rest our brains — in particular, how attention, memory and learning are affected — is important science.

“Attention is the holy grail,” Mr. Strayer says.

“Everything that you’re conscious of, everything you let in, everything you remember and you forget, depends on it.”

Echoing other researchers, Mr. Strayer says that understanding how attention works could help in the treatment of a host of maladies, like attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and depression. And he says that on a day-to-day basis, too much digital stimulation can “take people who would be functioning O.K. and put them in a range where they’re not psychologically healthy.”

The quest to understand the impact on the brain of heavy technology use — at a time when such use is exploding — is still in its early stages. To Mr. Strayer, it is no less significant than when scientists investigated the effects of consuming too much meat or alcohol…

[continues in the New York Times]

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  • Gemmarama

    well, duh.

    i moved from the city to a remote scottish island at the start of the year, for much the same reasons as outlined above – so i could basically hear myself think.

    it’s made the world of difference. despite not owning a tv for years or a computer ever (this is the first time i’ve had a laptop – i need it for work up here. before i had a very cheap, basic mobile phone and that was about it) i was still finding the relentless noise, pace and distractions of modern life oppressive. going back to nature has given me a kind of mental spring clean. after a coupla months your attention span lengthens, you couldn’t care less if you leave your phone in the house, and the personal epiphanies start rolling in thick and fast.

    i wouldn’t reccommend it as a permanent lifestyle choice though. i’m moving back to the city in the autumn. fresh air and peace and quiet are good for the soul in short-ish bursts, and i’m sure if you’re a chicken, say, or a cow, they’re enough to make you blissfully happy, but i’ve come to the realisation that it’s the emotional empathy and intellectual stimulation of like-minded people that keeps you sane. neither are in plentiful supply out here.

  • Gemmarama

    well, duh.

    i moved from the city to a remote scottish island at the start of the year, for much the same reasons as outlined above – so i could basically hear myself think.

    it's made the world of difference. despite not owning a tv for years or a computer ever (this is the first time i've had a laptop – i need it for work up here. before i had a very cheap, basic mobile phone and that was about it) i was still finding the relentless noise, pace and distractions of modern life oppressive. going back to nature has given me a kind of mental spring clean. after a coupla months your attention span lengthens, you couldn't care less if you leave your phone in the house, and the personal epiphanies start rolling in thick and fast.

    i wouldn't reccommend it as a permanent lifestyle choice though. i'm moving back to the city in the autumn. fresh air and peace and quiet are good for the soul in short-ish bursts, and i'm sure if you're a chicken, say, or a cow, they're enough to make you blissfully happy, but i've come to the realisation that it's the emotional empathy and intellectual stimulation of like-minded people that keeps you sane. neither are in plentiful supply out here.

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