How the Internet Changes our Brains

This is the whole point of this project.  I’m studying how we’ve changed due to technology by interviewing people who lived before it.  This infographic studies how the brain PHYSICALLY changes, and the personality pathologies that go along with it, due to internet use.  The comments my interviewees have made align exactly with the findings displayed in this infographic.

A Typewriter’s Effect on a Child

I had the coolest experience the other day.  I had planned to have tea at my house with a friend we’ll call Leslie that afternoon, but her babysitter canceled at the last minute.  She was worried about the havoc her two boys (aged 5 and 2) would have on my home, but I told her to bring them with her.  My house is by no means child-proofed, but my friends’ kids are typically well-behaved and listen to ‘no’ if need be.

Leslie’s youngest, Eric, was more interested in antagonizing my cat than anything else – which was hilarious – but her oldest, James, needed more mental stimulation.  Only minutes into our visit, he asked, “Do you have any toys?”  My heart melted.  I only have two stuffed animals I’ve saved over the years, so we started with that.  Let’s be honest, stuffed animals aren’t much entertainment, and he grew bored after five minutes.  I did my best to be creative.  “Do you want to draw?” I asked.  I happened to have a brand new box of Crayola colored pencils, which he thought were cool because he’d only had them at school, and gave him the choice between blank paper and lined.  This kept him busy for another half hour.

A Tactile Experience

Leslie and I enjoyed our tea and made sure her youngest didn’t kill my cat.  We chatted a while and affirmed the kids in their activities.  Soon, James was bored again.  He was very polite about it, simply looking around and beginning to wander.  I began to consider what I could offer that he wouldn’t break.  Behind him were the shelves that hold 90% of my studio.  Directly behind his head, I noticed my Olympia typewriter.

“Have you ever used a typewriter?” I asked.  I then realized that might have been the wrong question to lead with.  “Do you know what a typewriter is?”  Leslie and I waited while the wheels clicked in his brain.

“Is that what he used in Ratatouille?” James asked.  “Yes!” said Leslie.  Thank goodness she’d seen the movie.  I went to my shelf and got the heavy machine down.  I could already see James examining the tool’s intricacies.

“This is what people used to type before computers.  It’s a keyboard without a screen,” I attempted to explain.  I showed him how the paper wrapped around the roll, and how to punch the keys.  He immediately pushed all the keys at once, locking the tines.  “You have to type slower,” I instructed.  He followed the order, but wasn’t hitting the keys hard enough for them to make an imprint on the page.  “Harder,” I said.  With the first letter that marked the page, his eyes lit up.  It was as if I could see his brain working to figure out exactly how it worked.  He was looking inside, and typing all kinds of letters.  I showed him how to unlock the tines when they would lock up, as they often did due to his being used to a computer keyboard.  He kept looking it over, exploring new parts.  He’d lift the guard and ask, “What’s this for?” and I’d respond by explaining the paper loading process.  He really enjoyed the capitalization key, which lifts the entire chassis so the roll is aimed at a different part of the tine.  That took him down another road of exploration for a while.  Leslie and I visited for two hours, and James was entertained for the entire time.

There’s Something About Olympia

Have you ever noticed that flipping through Facebook or Reddit is boring?  Your brain is doing something menial, and your body is saying “ugh” the entire time.  You start to feel like a potato after about a half hour.  Finally, your brain says, “Ok, I get that other people are having fun.  Now can we have fun?”  Time drags in a different way when surfing the web.

Contrast that to enjoying a physical activity.  Fixing something, playing ultimate frisbee with friends, attending a concert, dancing, or going for a joy ride in the car (at totally legal speeds).  It feels like the entire brain lights up.  I’m not a psychology expert, but I do know that time tends to fly under such circumstances.

I’ve interviewed former teachers, professors, and grandparents during this project, and one thing is apparent.  Kids are growing up without these tactile experiences, and that’s probably effecting their brain development.  I know you’ve seen 3-year-olds glued to a smartphone, oblivious to the world around them.

We all know the feeling of not having done math for a while, and then using that portion of the brain again.  It kind of hurts and feels good at the same time.  Synapses fire that haven’t for a time, blood rushes in.  But what if those areas never grew?  Schools don’t teach the times tables, let alone algebra.  Could that part of the brain fail to develop as a consequence?

Take it a step further.  What if a child grows up never experiencing the mechanical, the tactile.  The television raises them, and the computer teaches them.  An entire portion of the brain never lights up.  It’s a known fact that at age three, the brain experiences a major neuron die off.  By age twelve, another occurs.  This is why people who only learn one language in youth find it incredibly difficult to learn any other in adulthood.  That area of the brain wasn’t used, and the potential functionality was lost.

If we don’t vary our sense of touch, the focus of our eyes, the muscles or brains when young, what will happen?  How will that affect our ability to cope in adulthood?  To accomplish physical goals?  To think?  And, most of all, what will happen to our society?  We will surely find out in the not so distant future.  For now, I’m asking those who’ve seen enough change to have a pretty good idea.

Kickstarter Launch Party

SocialBannerEvent

I am so excited to announce the Launch Party for the Kickstarter phase of this project.  This event is important in generating even more awareness of the project, which is critical to finding participants and getting the interviews in front of young people.

Those that I have interviewed in the Grand Rapids Area have been invited to attend with transportation provided if required.  Not only do they deserve the honor of recognition for their participation, attendees will have the rare experience of being able to talk to them about their stories.

In addition, ten local Grand Rapids small businesses that specialize in ‘analogue’ type services have been asked to sponsor rewards for the first ten donors at the event.  Not only does this offer even more publicity to great local businesses, the prizes will remind donors to slow down, that tech doesn’t hold all the answers.

When:  August 20, 2015
Time:  Doors at 6pm – Launch at 7:30pm
Where:  J. Gardella’s Tavern
RSVP:  Eventbrite  -or-  Facebook
Who:  This is a public event – all are welcome to attend.

5 Sounds Today’s Youth Has Never Heard

I still remember hearing an NPR story last year that stated new generations won’t know what a telephone pole is.  It boggled my mind.  I guess I was still living in some kind of retro bliss with my record player, type writer, and antique books.  The more I learn, the more nervous I become.  Today I’ll attempt to make light of the future by placing a bet – I bet your children haven’t heard these sounds.  Try playing some for them, and see if you can find the generational dividing line.

1.  Type Writer Keys

typewriter

Type writers were ubiquitous by the 1960’s.  They were in every office, and were the number one method for written communication.  Even calling cards (that’s another thing kids won’t know about) were typed out, first.  After experiencing a friend’s kid trying to use my type writer, I can confidently state they are way different than a keyboard to use.

2.  Dial Tone

But seriously, when was the last time YOU heard a dial tone?  Have you picked up a pay phone, recently?  Have you even SEEN a pay phone, recently? Are they even still in use in prisons?  I used to use them at school when I was a teen, but only see them as novelties anymore.  Most young homes don’t have land lines, and that’s the most likely way one would hear this sound.  What do your kids think when they hear it?

old rotary phone

3.  Dial Up Modem

ethernet

Do you remember how LONG it would take to get online?  And all those weird noises that were supposed to be the computers talking to each other?  If the machines take over, they’ll talk like that, apparently.  There was no flip of the switch, no opening your laptop and being already connected, and the internet was slow.  If you tell your kids this is the sound of computers talking, how do they react?

4.  Record Static

I’ll bet your kids don’t know much about record players.  Especially that the really fancy ones had a changer so you wouldn’t have to get up and change the record yourself after one side played.  But if you didn’t have one, the player would deliver the static of the needle against the paper center until you got up.  Do you even remember this sound?

record

5.  Film Projector

projector

This sound (and thing) is so old, it was next to impossible to find a quality image and sound reel to go with it!  I think I’ve seen a reel film video once.  Have you?  I’m very sure your kids haven’t, either.  But the sound of the film going round and round is classic to the point of still being used in some movie clips, today.  Do they recognize it?

Do you think it matters that these sounds are going away?  Should our kids have at least some contact with these things, or some context for understanding them?

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Now In Video

Featuring early interviewee Gus Katsoris