I finished reading iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by Gary Small, MD and Gigi Vorgan. Overall the book was very disappointing. The audience turned out to be technology challenged Baby Boomers and seniors, or “Digital Immigrants” as they are called when referring to generational tech status. Digital Immigrants are opposed to “Digital Natives” Gen Xers and Millennials who were born into what is generally considered the Digital Age. If you are 43 or under, you are considered a Digital Native.
What I had expected to be a book about how technology is changing our brains and possibly affecting evolutionary patterns, turned out to be a book explaining the world of Digital Natives to Digital Immigrants and reassuring them that they aren’t too old to learn technology and can even catch up to the Natives if they want to.
In spite of all that, there is some value in the book. Like I learned that the adult brain accounts for 20% of our daily energy expenditure. So, for instance, if you have a 2000 calorie a day diet, 400 calories get used up by your brain alone. Maybe those weight loss books that suggest we can think our way thin are actually on to something.
I also learned that face-to-face interactions use more areas of the brain than do computer interactions whether that is gaming, chatting, or doing a little online shopping. This is not a problem if you balance your virtual life with your real life. But studies have found that people, especially children, who spend hours online everyday experience atrophy of the neural pathways used for in-person people skills.
Gaming especially stunts frontal lobe development and there is concern that the brains of teenagers who spend hours a day gaming may never catch up to a normal brain. Studies also show that over-exposure to digital technology can make men more likely to exhibit autistic behavior. Sorry guys, this is currently only male brains. Female brains apparently have a slightly different structure that keeps us from having the same issue.
And if you thought using a television as a babysitter was bad, using a computer is even worse. It is recommended that children two and under not be exposed to computers or television. Even those “educational” videos and computer games are bad for them. Some studies have found that too early exposure could delay brain development including language acquisition.
That’s pretty much it for the interesting bits. About the last third of the book is about explaining technology. The authors go over what a blog is, what chat/IM is, email, the dangers of the virtual world like phishing and viruses. There is even a whole page on how to look up health information online.
Perhaps this book might be useful for someone who is not comfortable or familiar with computers and technology. But for this Gen X Digital Native it was pretty much a worthless book. Though it was easy reading on the bus because I didn’t have to really pay attention to it to follow along.