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(cave person) Sure, me think fire is cool. But me worry about its impact on our brains.

This is your brain. This is your brain on fire.

This is your brain. This is your brain on fire. published on 2 Comments on This is your brain. This is your brain on fire.

It isn’t easy to find the right balance between rah-rah bring-on-the-Bluetooth-brain-implants cheerleading and will nobody think of what it’s doing to the children?! fear-mongering. Certainly science doesn’t exactly offer definitive answers; Wikipedia conveniently gives you lots of evidence to support whichever position you feel like adopting.

(There’s also the argument that we’re pretty unlikely to turn away en masse from our screens, so let’s make the best of it.)

 As a parent, I can see my kids being changed by everything they do, from playing with Lego to taking hikes in the Endowment Lands to learning to read to, yes, surfing the net. And as a guy who insists that the social web is transformational, I have to be open to the likelihood that we’re being changed just as surely as institutions and organizations are. But is there anything especially surprising about the observation that change changes us? Is there something especially insidious, or necessarily bad, about change that’s digitally mediated?

I circle around questions like these pretty often, but here’s where I keep finding myself landing:

At a time when we’re facing urgent civilization-level questions around energy, climate change, food security, massive income disparity and several other issues, we’ve also developed tools that can connect us in ways that were unfeasible one generation ago; fantastical two generations ago; and barely imaginable three generations ago.

We’d be crazy not to ask how they change us, but the idea that we should reject them out of hand because, well, have you seen the way kids congregate staring at their devices? strikes me as even crazier. We have to draw on those tools, and more importantly the connections they make possible, to answer those questions together.

Maybe Nicholas Carr’s right, and it’s turning us into shallow, short-term thinkers. (Attention, people who use tl;dr the way other people use commas: you’re not helping.) I find it easier to believe that maybe there’s some good in there, too, as Dr. Gary Small suggests, and there’s some hope of using the web to improve our thinking – while we apply a little attention to make sure we remain empathetic, decent people.