Our Dance with Technology

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As Adults

We now know that there can be alterations under certain conditions regarding the extent to which certain areas of our brain are being used and the way in which these areas are being used. These alternations can occur well into adulthood – they are not limited to our early life experiences. This capacity for alteration is called neuroplasticity.

At its extreme, neuroplasticity can work magic. For instance, someone who has lost their capacity to see will begin to open up their visual cortex to non-visual functions. They might begin to transfer some of their auditory functions over to the visual cortex. This enables them to be particularly skillful in remembering what other people have said to them or what the content is of an entire piano concerto. They can repeat an entire speech or play the entire concerto.

What about those of us who rely on a specific medium for all or most of our information regarding the world? We zone in on visual and auditory information (coming from our smartphone) and no longer read the printed word. Does our brain begin to assign our visual cortex and/or our auditory cortex some of the space in the region of our brain that is usually devoted to the processing of words (occipital-temporal region)?

Is it just science fiction conjecturing to image that our brain will gradually losing its ability to read, while at the same time becoming increasing attuned to visual and auditory stimuli? Our growing appreciation of neuroplasticity suggests that these fundamental neurological changes can occur over a remarkably brief period of time. We don’t have to wait for slow evolutionary change to occur throughout an entire species. Profound neurological changes can occur within the lifespan of an individual person.

As Learners

The way in which our brain operates is at the same time both quite simply and quite complex. In its simple form, the brain is a set of wires that fire together and become even more closely wired together when they fire together. At a much more complex level, the brain operates almost like a holograph, with wave like movement of brain firings occurring across its surface.

The entire brain is always active (except when we are no longer alive), and exists not as a set of isolated units, but as one highly interactive, self-organizing system. And it is a system that is influenced systemically by the external stimuli that trigger the wiring and the wave actions. If these external stimuli are generated by specific technologies, then the nature and content of these technologies influence everything – including the way in which we learn and what we learn.

Much like the child, we can be active or passive learners. We can concentrate on external stimuli or devote much of our attention to stimuli we generate ourselves. Our technologies have something to say about how we learn. They don’t just sit out there waiting for us to decide how to use them. I use the term Human-Embedded Technology when describing this intimate, interactive relationship. A specific technology such as neuro-electrical stimulation and neurofeedback literally changes the firing of neurons in the brain – we are getting rewired.

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