The Land with two Brains

As I was perusing through my last few blogs, I noticed that the last 5 or so were categorized under “personal.”  I definitely like blogging about different subject matters and my life and relationships are certainly part of that, yet it is about time to get back to something a bit more academic and exercise that other half of the brain –the half that is not quite so touchy feely and does not care much for singing bowls or drum circles.

This upcoming Friday, Crafton Hills College will be hosting the Southern California Speech Educators Forum. As the Director of this forum, I, among other duties, will be discussing with Speech Geeks like myself, issues in the field of teaching Communication Studies in the college context.

Thus, I come to you, my blog readers, and to the educators this Friday with an issue that is so vastly important, pervasive and transformative in our culture right now that most of us are utterly blind to it as that which encompasses becomes our norm and thus becomes invisible.

So, if you are not into technology and the brain, go to the “personal” tab above and read all about my emotional and psychological shortcomings as I whine like a little bitch. For today, I am an academic; whiny-bitchthough still a little bitch to be sure. I have blogged about this before though then the focus was comparing digital natives (my kids) with digital immigrants (me); I believe this distinction is not so great as I once believed.

We are all currently in the process of getting our brains completely rewired through technologies not thought possible just a couple of decades ago.  The hyperlink world is creating hyperlink brains.  Our brains are turning more “status update” than detailed diary, more snapchat than manifesto, more Wikipedia and less encyclopedia.

Gary Small UCLA professor of psychiatry tells us that “…the current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains (the daily use of computers, smartphones, search engines and other such tools) stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains and weakening old ones.

technology-addictI am not a brain scientist and at the risk of monumental oversimplification, I have read enough literature to know that those parts of the brain we do not use shrink and get adopted by other parts of the brain we are using. For example, if one were suddenly struck with blindness the part of the brain responsible for vision would lend a hand to the auditory function of the brain. If we lose one of our senses, our brain becomes more acute in the other unaffected senses as a form of brain compensation.

In a famous study of London taxicab drivers detailed brain autopsies as well as brain scans reveal that the part of the brain responsible for memorizing streets and having a sense of direction, the posterior hippocampus, was significantly larger than the general population and, depending on how many years on the job, the more experienced drivers had a larger posterior hippocampus. Interestingly, neural-plasticitythe anterior hippocampus was smaller –meaning the part of the brain overused was yoked- though it was at the expense of another unused part.

Kind of like my bulky biceps grow at the expense of my little tiny schoolboy calves. Yeah, just like that.

Nicholas Carr suggests “with the exception of alphabet and number systems, the Internet may well be the single most powerful mind altering technology that has ever come into general use, At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book.”

So, what does this mean? It means all of our brains are changing in some very humungous ways that researchers are still trying to figure out. This is an extremely important period of history in our biological neural evolution.

We are certainly seeing a lot of evidence that our collective brains are becoming much more acute in the area of multi-tasking and much less acute in focusing while finishing what we start.  We are losing many abilities related to memory as we no longer need to memorize numbers, addresses, or, for that matter, nearly all information as we simply pull it up on Google.focus-and-concentration

The GPS is completely retarding our collective senses of direction; yet, ask me to find 10 addresses and I can provide them all in under 30 seconds.

I am neither a technological dystopian (our brains and the world are going to hell) nor utopian (technology will save us) and I am quite open to nearly all googleglasspossibilities.  I do believe “Google Glasses” (you must check that link out people, seriously, check it right now and come back) and the concept of singularity -where biological brain and technology become as one- are very real possibilities and, most likely, probabilities.

So blog readers, how do we Speech educators teach effectively to multi-tasking, hyperlinked, multi-tabbed brains?

So blog readers AND Speech educators, do we realize this is taking place? Do we want it to take place? Are we losing control of our own brains?

I don’t have any answers though I know for certain we need to be asking the questions.  If not, we lemmings may just follow that technological pied piper over the cliff. Or not.

Just stuff worth thinking about….told you I would still whine like a little bitch. Sorry Jesus.




  1. It’s been a long time since I replied to one of your posts, but I guess you could say I was partial to this one.

    Earlier this semester, I mentioned this very idea to another classmate who was complaining about how her toddler knows his way around an iPad but still can’t even tie his shoes. But then another classmate brought up, why would he even need to learn to tie his shoes. A quick observation of all of our shoes showed that most of us wore slip-ons, sandals, shoes with zippers or buckles and those with laces were quite a minority.

    I can’t say technology for sure has affected this, but I think it does make sense that our brains, and even our lifestyles, are being altered to fit the multitasking world of technology.

    You already know my views on this, though. I agree it’s wise to be cautious, but we also shouldn’t fear our new computer overlords. Indulging is destructive, and resistance impossible. We’ll survive when we learn to adapt.

    • Great to hear from you Luis. My biggest concern regarding dependence on technology…what happens when the electricity goes out? We are FUCKED! Our digital minds will not be able to navigate a naturally analogue world. I will be seeing you on May 3rd…don’t forget, judge.

  2. Great blog Jimmy, really made me think about things.
    There is no question that it is taking place, whether we want it to or not. the question is how do we use it to make our lives better (And gain an advantage on those who don’t have the technology) also what are the advantages for those who aren’t giving into the “facebook syndrome”?
    Will it boost creativity or strangle it? Will it fuel curiosity or sate it? These are a couple of the many questions we will all have to ask ourselves as technology continues to advance…whats worth keeping and what do we throw away?

  3. Hi Jim.

    I feel that in today’s world technology is is not something we can or should avoid weather it be in a professional, or edacuational environment. Lots of studies have shown the benefits that technology can and does provide.

    I think that what needs to be done is we as a society need to learn when and how to use it. For example in your speech 100 class you made sure we gave our fellow classmates the respect they deserve and put our phones away. But at the same time you would encourage us to “fact check” each other as well as you.

    Things like twitter have helped send important information to the masses very quickly. Such as when Osama Bin Laudin
    was found. But it can hender as well. Like when you need to get your outline for speech class done, that’s due in 4 hours. Or that report your boss has been asking about for over a week. And now you are just sitting here playing Angry Birds (or reading this reply)

    It’s all about control and knowing when and how to use it.

    So to end my rant technology is great when it is used as a tool that’s what is a tool not a replacement. Be it for learning, work or even watching cat videos.

    And just a reminder your phone can not replace your friends or people. Get out and talk to someone face to face. You will thank yourself later

    • Thank for commenting Paul! I miss having you in class. As I will tell the Speech profs on Friday and it alludes to your point: You can tell students to put their cell phones away though the cell phone BRAIN remains. Regardless of how awesome or negative technology can be, the effect it is having on how we process information in our brains, is indisputably changing the wiring in our brains.

      • Very true. I did forget to mention the brain aspect of it. In regards to that I would have to say that, if we learn to use the technology in more productive ways. It in turn will wire our brains to be more preductive. So in place of sitting in class thinking… Wow ok I get it something about a gold snake. 🙂 it becomes I think I remember an article I read online about what day dreaming really means. And then you could share that with the class. Thus causing a pebble in the shoe of a fellow student. Which would cause them to looking into it more, which would then further increase the educational experience.

  4. You learn something new everyday.
    I have a very underdeveloped posterior hippocampus. Thank you GPS and baby Jesus for guiding me thru life.

  5. Being someone with a weirdly wired brain to begin with, as you know, this is a banquet of thought. Just not sure whose half of my brain to use to digest it all. Is there a dessert buffet here anywhere?

    • Weirdly wired? I have met very few people in my life that are as in touch with their own brain as you Georgia.

  6. Hey Jimmy, you stated some great viewpoints on this blog. Reading this blog I am under the impression that you view our dependency with technology more as the glass is half empty. I on the other hand see this as half full.

    You state that “the part of the brain overused was yoked- though it was at the expense of another unused part.”

    I am under the impression that you believe it is more beneficial to be more diverse and be generally well rounded. I on the other hand disagree.

    As society progresses everything is becoming more micro managed.

    I believe that in such a world it is more economically beneficial to become great at one thing rather then many.

    For example lets say it takes you 1 hour to paint a room with your paint roller, but it takes me 30 minuets to paint a room with an airbrush.

    It would be more time beneficial for me to paint the room because I have the right tools

    Lets say it takes you 15 minuets to cut a tree down with your chainsaw
    But takes me 1 hour to cut it down with an axe.

    Likewise it would be more beneficial for you to cut the trees down cause you have the right tools.

    If we are each to both paint 4 bedrooms and cut down down 4 trees each it would take you 5 hours to finish the task and 6 hours for me to finish mine so 11 hours of total combined work. BUT if you only did the things you were good at and focused less on the things you were not as good at and I would do the same we would both mutually benefit. It would take you only 2 hours to cut all of the trees down and only take me 4 hours to paint all of the rooms equaling only a combine work time of 6 hours.

    According to your research source from Gary Small “…altering our brains stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains and weakening old ones.” proves that one area of our brain is benefiting from the lost of certain neurons.

    I believe its is more beneficial for us to all strive to be great at one thing Why would we need to use an area of our brain if we do not have to? If I can be the best at something people will want or need me to do that task for them cause I do it better then everyone else. I would then hire other people that are the best at their trade and have them do the work that I am not productive at

  7. Hey Jimmy,

    I am constantly amazed when I look around each day and see our attention and focus blown away. It seems more and more common today to have conversations with people that mirror the new style of technology and communication. Everyone seems to talk in summaries and bullet pointed cliff notes about how they feel on a topic. No one wants to take the time to actually talk about anything for a prolonged duration. Even the cliché coffee shop scene has changed from a central place for discussing ideas and philosophy, into a fast paced McDonald’s atmosphere filled with people devouring five second bits of random news and information, while maintaining the strongest effort to not directly communicate with anyone around them.

    However, I do not believe this is a sign of humanity’s downfall. I think Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity points out an interesting fact about our technology and the new information age. This is that we have been increasing our technology on an exponential level rather than a linear one. So while this jump in technology seems to have come out of nowhere, it was actually completely predictable. I believe the way our culture has changed is a symptom of our mind trying to keep up with this exponential gain in technology.

    Technology should be viewed as an extension to our human evolution. As much a part of us as a termite mound is part of the termite. I think it will only be a matter of time before we sync up the disconnection our biological body and mind has to our technology. It will become a necessity to be able to upgrade our mind to be able to keep up with our technology. I think the real question here is: How much are we going to resist this inevitable change?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *