EUGENE, Ore. – It may sound strange but some computer users in the Eugene area can no longer claim that it’s raining outside for why they’re still hunkered down and playing with their computer or other screens that keep them inside.
“Getting outside sort of takes away from the cyberworld that’s more fun when in a dark room,” explains Eugene teen Josh who admits to spending upwards of “10 to 12 hours a day on line” and that includes the summer months when Josh is not in school.
Josh says he knows that the outside promises swimming in the pool, taking walks along the nearby coast beaches and biking with friends around town. But, heck, he admits that “I just can’t cut the wire to my PC. It needs me, and I need it,” he jokes but still looks sad.
Brain refocus vital to avoid computer, Internet burnout for good health
Due to overuse of technology – starring at computer, smartphone, iPad and other screens that take you into cyberspace – “your brain sends you false messages all the time throughout your day,” state leading brain experts in what’s become “brain vs. technology” in recent books by neuroscientists concerned about brain health in a time of massive Internet use.
More and more Americans have brains that are leading them down a dangerous path resulting in depression, anxiety, troubled relationships, addiction, excessive anger, emotional isolation and other woes, says Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz in a new “brain health” book.
For example, “She’s going to leave me!” is the brain message, writes Dr. Schwartz, while saying a response might be “check my e-mail again to see if she responded, and everything is okay?”
Neuroscientists also make the point that many people today reply more on technology than their own brains to understand human relationships when, in fact, a computer, an Internet Facebook or Tweet site is simply cyber space and not real. A computer can’t smell, for example. It’s a machine, while the human brain is “us.”
What makes us human revealed in the “tell-tale brain”
“It’s the little things that make you realize that being online all the time changes you in some way,” says famed neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, whose taken a Sherlock Homes-style approach to try and understand why people’s “online” desire to escape normal life with cyberspace in his new book “The Tell-Tale Brain” A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human.”
Ramachandran, who’s lectured here in the Eugene area, is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. The professor describes the brain as “looking like a walnut made of two mirror-image halves,” that needs food, exercise, fresh air, sunlight and human interactions to stay healthy.
In turn, Ramachandran traces the “strange links between neurology and behavior,” while explaining that the human brain can exhibit “bizarre behaviors in terms of the innermost workings of the brain,” when it’s exposed to technology on a daily and regular basis.
Such warnings, it seems, do not amount to a hill of beans in a world that’s getting more wired daily with no stopping cyberspace and it’s negative and unhealthy influence on both young and old brains that “absorb” information like a sponge.
Oregon “hippie” festival bans all technology to give people’s brains a break from technology
Liz, a University of Oregon business student sits at the recent “Oregon Country Fair” and makes drawings of passersby and the nature that surrounds her amongst some 50,000 others who spent July 8-10 in a forest outside of Eugene to escape technology and give their overloaded brains a break from cyberspace.
“What I think many ‘Fair’ goers found, as I did, was that you can operation on a different level without the aid of computers. Many forgot that they can enjoy human contact without doing it online. I started drawing again, and I had not done that since high school,” explained Liz who let out a long exhalation of relief after saying she’s spent “the first day in a long time without the Internet on.”
In fact, many people in America today keep the Internet on 24/7. And, in turn, they are also online in all its many forms throughout the day. “I was in a woman’s stall at the Fair and I heard someone next to me on her cell. When we were washing our hands after, I joked ‘shame on you, and she just nodded and smiled as if she knew that doing one’s business should not include a cell chat or Tweet.”
Addiction to technology now coming out of the closet in America
Country Music star Blake Shelton has recently admitted to being “addicted to Twitter,” during various media interviews. Shelton freely admits that “since I started Tweeting I don’t have as much times on my hands because any time I get a free moment I have all these random thoughts that I want to share with the country,” added Shelton during an interview with Baltimore disc jockey Laurie DeYoung.
At the same time, Liz noted that while she was taking a break from summertime classes, she attended the recent Oregon Country Fair outside of Eugene to “again be with the living.”
“There’s these basement computer labs at the University of Oregon where you see these pale looking, bloodshot eyes students who, on occasion come out to eat and get some sunshine. And, you know, they can’t look you in the eye, they can’t just be themselves and hang out because they’re too focused, it seems, on cyberspace and, sadly, that’s where they’re living, existing now.
In turn, those who attended the “Fair,” said they really didn’t miss the technology.
“I was too busy meeting old friends. To tell you the truth, I didn’t notice there were no computers around. Thanks for reminding me of that,” joked Wes Neborsky, who deals in real estate in the Eugene area.
Nebrosky also noted that he had to “refocus” for a few days after the Fair to re-wire his brain again for his job that requires him to spend massive amounts of time, day in and day out, online.
You are not your brain, and you are not a computer
“We’ve shown you that the brain is capable of sending out false, deceptive message in an unrelenting fashion and that these unwanted thoughts and destructive urges can overrun your life,” adds Dr. Schwartz.
“A leading neuroplasticity researcher and the coauthor of the groundbreaking books Brain Lock and The Mind and the Brain, Jeffrey M. Schwartz has spent his career studying the structure and neuronal firing patterns of the human brain. He pioneered the first mindfulness-based treatment program for people suffering from OCD, teaching patients how to achieve long-term relief from their compulsions. For the past six years, Schwartz has worked with psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding to refine a program that successfully explains how the brain works and why we often feel besieged by bad brain wiring,” states an Amazon.com review for this recent “brain” book that joins dozens of other best sellers about how to stop brain overload from computer and digital technology.
“The effectiveness of You Are Not Your Brain lies in empowering readers with the knowledge and skills to help themselves. Schwartz and Gladding lay the groundwork by explaining the science behind deceptive brain messages. In easy-to-understand terms, they clarify how several biological principles combine together to wire habits into the brain – thus making them extremely difficult to change – and why focusing your attention is key to changing your brain. With that background, the authors then teach readers how to assess the meaning and importance of the thoughts and impulses that enter their head so they can make choices that are consistent with the person they want to be (not the one their brain is trying to tell them they are),” adds the Amazon.com review for this book that explains how the brain is duped by technology.
Because Dr. Schwartz noted that those “wired habits into the brain” are “extremely difficult to change,” other doctors and neuroscientists worry that excessive time online – in all its many forms – may “damage the brain.”
Brain is easy to influence by computers and other stimuli, state experts
“What I am proposing is that the human brain is a much more constrained organ than we think, and that it places strong limits on the range of possible cultural forms. Essentially, the brain did not evolve for culture, but culture evolved to be learnable by the brain. Through its cultural inventions, humanity constantly searched for specific niches in the brain, wherever there is a space of plasticity that can be exploited to “recycle” a brain area and put it to a novel use,” explained Stanislas Dehaene in a Scientific American interview that noted that Dehaene holds the chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology at the Collège de France, and he is also the director of the INSERM-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit at NeuroSpin, France’s most advanced neuroimaging research center.
Dehaene is best known for his research into the brain basis of numbers, popularized in his book, “The Number Sense.” In his new book, “Reading in the Brain,” he describes his quest to understand an astounding feat that most of us take for granted: translating marks on a page (or a screen) into language.
This research has produced evidence that the brain can be harmed by excessive exposure to “constant” streams of digital information sent via smartphones, the Internet, via iPads and in general from too much time spent starring at computer screens, say experts.
Reading, mathematics, tool use, music, religious systems and technology — all might be viewed as instances of cortical recycling, adds Dehanene who also warns that the “brain” is vulnerable to information in all its forms.
For instance, Microsoft’s Bill Gates made headlines a few years ago when he told Charlie Rose on his PBS talk show that he only allows his children to “stay online no more than two hours per day,” and that includes time for school work.
Gates told Rose that he was “alarmed” when his kids said “they were bored,” and could not share in the family’s dinner conversations because they were “distracted by too much technology.”