Tag Archives: brain

Our Brains on Technology

A recent University College London study suggests that overuse of satellite navigation systems, or GPS, is actually shutting off parts of our brain. Researchers say that the pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus sections of the brain are stimulated when navigating streets and choosing potential routes but are turned off when following GPS prompts. Just as we develop muscles in our body through exercise, mental activity activates parts of our brain. The authors of this study don’t claim that the evidence is conclusive but it leads me to wonder what other brain functions are not being exercised because of our use of technology. This post is dedicated to the idea of a balanced, not blind approach to technology.

Evolutionary Changes

Could it be true that our brains are changing due to emerging technologies? If so, what implications does that have? Is it a net loss in intelligence or is it simply that one area of the brain gets stronger while another gets weaker? I wonder if early society worried about changes when we went from primarily a spoken language to a spoken and written language. Would we get lazy because we no longer had to remember the oral traditions of our forefathers to pass on to future generations? How did writing change us as individuals and as a society? In the same vein, how are digital technologies changing us today? Are we becoming net smarter? So many questions.

London Taxis

A 2011 report highlights biological changes in the brain structure of London taxi drivers. The study shows that these drivers, who study London maps for three to four years before their licensing examination, have increased activity and capacity in one section of their brain but decreased capacity in another part. In other words, by studying routings of London’s 25,000 streets their spatial skills increased but other cognitive functional capacity was lost. They are obviously good at their jobs so is the shift in their cognitive abilities a bad thing or is it just different?

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In a 2008 article in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review Editor Nicholas Carr asks a similar question when he muses whether Google is making us stupid. To be more precise, he questions whether search engines are changing our reading and study habits and pulling us away from deep reading. He cites his own growing inability to read a long article or an entire book because of his habit of skimming many sources instead of concentrating on one paper or book. He asks the same questions that I pose. Is this change in our cognitive ability good, bad or indifferent? Several studies point to the human brain’s incredible plasticity and ability to adapt to changing stimuli so perhaps the answer is simply that it is different and perhaps evolutionary.


New technologies are changing the way we live our lives and perform everyday tasks. I think it is worth asking whether it is changing our habits and thinking for the better or is it just simply change, neither good nor bad. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Evolution of the Deep Reading Brain

Image of two human heads on a labyrinth pattern with a laser light connection.I recently attended a lecture on the restoration of the deep reading brain in the digital age. The implication was that in the digital age we no longer read and contemplate deeply but skip from one short article to the next. In other words, we live in a world of sound bites. Studies suggest that our new form of reading and study is actually changing neural connections in our brain. While this may be true, I think we need to understand whether this is a bad development or just part of our continued human evolution.

Deep Reading Brain

Maryanne Wolf, author of “Proust and the Squid,” coined the phrase deep reading brain. Deep reading is the process of sustained study and concentration, but more importantly it is associated with the ability to connect reading to other ideas in order to create unique thoughts. Shallow reading, on the other hand, is cast in a bad light as not promoting further understanding but merely informing about news or information. Some authors link the shift to shallow reading to the proliferation of digital devices and particularly handheld devices. This does not take into account the fact that we have a lot more information available to us than in the past, and it is available in a format that does not require us to sit down and actually read a paper book. Does the potential loss of a deep reading brain jeopardize other areas of our thinking?

Socrates and the Written Word

Is the concern about a shift from a deep reading brain a problem unique to us? The short answer is no. As humans, we have only been reading and writing for the last 5,500 years. Before that we communicated verbally in order to exchange information and record history. During the last transition, Socrates is reported to have expressed concern about the new written word of his day in an account from Plato. He was worried that young people would think that knowledge was now all recorded and required no further pursuit or contemplation. Does this sound like a familiar argument? To quote French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”


Aristotle writes about three lives that we should lead, the highest being a life of study and contemplation. Some argue that we now lead a distracted life instead and cannot slow down long enough to pursue the contemplative life. My purpose for this blog entry is to ask questions. Is this the new reality in our modern day thinking? Is it good, bad, or just different? As we build new neural connections geared towards processing large amounts of information, are we losing the ability for deep thinking and processing or are we building a new and more valuable skill? I would love to get your thoughts and start a dialogue to work through these questions.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.