Warp Speed

By Brown, Tina | Newsweek, July 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Warp Speed


Brown, Tina, Newsweek


Byline: Tina Brown

Digital gadgets are changing our brains.

Historians of the future may note that around the time of the Facebook IPO a critical juncture was reached in the relationship between technology and the human race. No longer were the wired-up people on planet Earth controlling the devices that ingenious, wizardlike engineers invented to serve and connect them. Instead, the ultrasmart new devices were controlling and enslaving them--us--and doing so at frightening, ever-accelerating speed.

You know it's true anecdotally from the signs all around us--the glazed longing that creeps into eyes as a phone vibrates from a pocket or bag, the instantly lowered heads in an elevator as soon as the doors close and messages are scanned, the teenager asleep with a glowing phone on the pillow, the frantic effort on the plane to maintain surreptitious connection for the last few minutes after the voice has told us to turn off all handheld devices. It's like having an ever-present, adulterous, inexhaustibly demanding affair, a secret counterexistence that no matter how fast we run always outpaces reality. "We may appear to be choosing to use this technology," Tony Dokoupil writes on page 28, "but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell."

In his international survey for Newsweek of a variety of academic research in neuroscience, psychiatry, and psychology, Dokoupil identifies disquieting global trends in mental health associated with Internet penetration. In the U.S. in the past decade, there has been a 66 percent rise in ADHD diagnoses. Arguments may be made about cause and effect, but there's now no doubt that the brain is changing. A Chinese study of Internet addicts has mapped changes in the areas charged with attention, control, and executive function signified by "abnormal white matter"--essentially extra nerve cells built for speed. The changes turn out to be similar to those observed in the brains of junkies and alcoholics. …

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