May 05, 2014
Looking Back: Your Brain on the Digital Future
We are living in a digital world and I’m of two minds about it. I can imagine a time in the not so distant future where our mobile experiences are intimately linked to the physical world, where my phone can interpret my dreams at night and wake me up with tunes that will recharge my mind and optimize my mood throughout the day.
After rolling out of bed I’ll sync my body’s internal metrics with my phone so that I can monitor my brain and body’s activity to achieve peak performance — my intellectual curiosity meter, creativity meter, exercise meter, and mood meter all restored and ready to go. A biorhythmic sleep gauge will allow me to track my wake and sleep cycles, letting me know when I should take a nap during the day, or shut the lights off at night. When I get into my car, it will automatically sense my mood and urgency and will guide me on the best route to get me to the office with time to spare.
At work, I will turn on my computing spectacles and plug into the virtual reams of email messages waiting for me, I’ll be able to check my stock reports, weather and research current trends all through these custom lenses. My workstation will track my eye-movements and calculate variations in my facial responses and skin conductivity as I work through stressful situations, or ones requiring deep concentration. My performance is tracked and all data is automatically saved in my employee file over in HR.
During my lunch break, I can set my phone to receive digital coupons when and where I want them. As I walk throughout the city, nearby retail shops and restaurants will be able to sense my location and send me offers and coupons via SMS, enticing me to take that final step and walk into the store to make a purchase or grab a sandwich. Facial recognition tools will be in place as I traverse the city, helping me to identify those I have met before, even in passing. Human interactions and conversations will map back to arbitrary numbers to identify those whom I have encountered before.
We are innovative creatures, and yet naïve. Technology may have a way of literally imprinting itself on our brains over time.
This vision for the future may sound like utopic dream world, but it may not be that far off. I am fully aware of my penchant for optimism, earnestly recognizing that having a diplomatic society that balances technological advancement with social progress may just be a pipe dream. We are innovative creatures, and yet naïve. Technology may have a way of literally imprinting itself on our brains over time.
In a recent study, researches examined men and women who were diagnosed with Internet addiction disorder (IAD), a new condition in the 2013 DSM-5 that characterizes a subset of the population with an uncontrollable proclivity for excessive Internet use that consistently interferes with daily life. The study used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to juxtapose brain scans of IAD patients with those of healthy individuals.
The research found that the brain scans of Internet addicts had increased patterns and prevalence of abnormal white matter, areas in the brain that contain nerve fibers that transmit signals to other parts of the brain. These findings indicate evidence of disrupted neural pathways related to the regulation of emotions, decision-making and self-control. While this correlation is astonishing, there is no indication of directionality, meaning that it may be early to determine if people with abnormal white matter are predisposed to the addictive condition, or if constant digital stimulation altered the brain over time.
In the near future, when we are consumed by our constantly connected world, I will reminisce about a time in the not too distant past when I recall being able to simply unplug, unwind, and imbibe a fruity beverage on the beach. When it was fine to simply turn off my phone and disengage with the online world. When our society was evolved enough to be a place where we valued giving ourselves time to think, to breathe and to reflect without having to look at a screen that constantly demands our attention.