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Mind Change
Cover of Mind Change
Mind Change
How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains
Borrow Borrow
We live in a world unimaginable only decades ago: a domain of backlit screens, instant information, and vibrant experiences that can outcompete dreary reality. Our brave new technologies offer incredible opportunities for work and play. But at what price?

Now renowned neuroscientist Susan Greenfield—known in the United Kingdom for challenging entrenched conventional views—brings together a range of scientific studies, news events, and cultural criticism to create an incisive snapshot of "the global now." Disputing the assumption that our technologies are harmless tools, Greenfield explores whether incessant exposure to social media sites, search engines, and videogames is capable of rewiring our brains, and whether the minds of people born before and after the advent of the Internet differ.

Stressing the impact on Digital Natives—those who've never known a world without the Internet—Greenfield exposes how neuronal networking may be affected by unprecedented bombardments of audiovisual stimuli, how gaming can shape a chemical landscape in the brain similar to that in gambling addicts, how surfing the Net risks placing a premium on information rather than on deep knowledge and understanding, and how excessive use of social networking sites limits the maturation of empathy and identity.

But Mind Change also delves into the potential benefits of our digital lifestyle. Sifting through the cocktail of not only threat but opportunity these technologies afford, Greenfield explores how gaming enhances vision and motor control, how touch tablets aid students with developmental disabilities, and how political "clicktivism" foments positive change.

In a world where adults spend ten hours a day online, and where tablets are the common means by which children learn and play, Mind Change reveals as never before the complex physiological, social, and cultural ramifications of living in the digital age. A book that will be to the Internet what An Inconvenient Truth was to global warming, Mind Change is provocative, alarming, and a call to action to ensure a future in which technology fosters—not frustrates—deep thinking, creativity, and true fulfillment.
Praise for Mind Change

"Greenfield's application of the mismatch between human and machine to the brain introduces an important variation on this pervasive view of technology. . . . She has a rare talent for explaining science in accessible prose."The Washington Post

"Greenfield's focus is on bringing to light the implications of Internet-induced 'mind change'—as comparably multifaceted as the issue of climate change, she argues, and just as important."Chicago Tribune

"Mind Change is exceedingly well organized and hits the right balance between academic and provocative."Booklist

"[A] challenging, stimulating perspective from an informed neuroscientist on a complex, fast-moving, hugely consequential field."Kirkus Reviews

"[Greenfield] is not just an engaging communicator but a thoughtful, responsible scientist, and the arguments she makes are well-supported and persuasive."Mail on Sunday

"Greenfield's admirable goal to prove an empirical basis for discussion is . . . an important one."Financial Times

"An important presentation of an uncomfortable minority position."—Jaron Lanier, Nature
From the Hardcover edition.
We live in a world unimaginable only decades ago: a domain of backlit screens, instant information, and vibrant experiences that can outcompete dreary reality. Our brave new technologies offer incredible opportunities for work and play. But at what price?

Now renowned neuroscientist Susan Greenfield—known in the United Kingdom for challenging entrenched conventional views—brings together a range of scientific studies, news events, and cultural criticism to create an incisive snapshot of "the global now." Disputing the assumption that our technologies are harmless tools, Greenfield explores whether incessant exposure to social media sites, search engines, and videogames is capable of rewiring our brains, and whether the minds of people born before and after the advent of the Internet differ.

Stressing the impact on Digital Natives—those who've never known a world without the Internet—Greenfield exposes how neuronal networking may be affected by unprecedented bombardments of audiovisual stimuli, how gaming can shape a chemical landscape in the brain similar to that in gambling addicts, how surfing the Net risks placing a premium on information rather than on deep knowledge and understanding, and how excessive use of social networking sites limits the maturation of empathy and identity.

But Mind Change also delves into the potential benefits of our digital lifestyle. Sifting through the cocktail of not only threat but opportunity these technologies afford, Greenfield explores how gaming enhances vision and motor control, how touch tablets aid students with developmental disabilities, and how political "clicktivism" foments positive change.

In a world where adults spend ten hours a day online, and where tablets are the common means by which children learn and play, Mind Change reveals as never before the complex physiological, social, and cultural ramifications of living in the digital age. A book that will be to the Internet what An Inconvenient Truth was to global warming, Mind Change is provocative, alarming, and a call to action to ensure a future in which technology fosters—not frustrates—deep thinking, creativity, and true fulfillment.
Praise for Mind Change

"Greenfield's application of the mismatch between human and machine to the brain introduces an important variation on this pervasive view of technology. . . . She has a rare talent for explaining science in accessible prose."The Washington Post

"Greenfield's focus is on bringing to light the implications of Internet-induced 'mind change'—as comparably multifaceted as the issue of climate change, she argues, and just as important."Chicago Tribune

"Mind Change is exceedingly well organized and hits the right balance between academic and provocative."Booklist

"[A] challenging, stimulating perspective from an informed neuroscientist on a complex, fast-moving, hugely consequential field."Kirkus Reviews

"[Greenfield] is not just an engaging communicator but a thoughtful, responsible scientist, and the arguments she makes are well-supported and persuasive."Mail on Sunday

"Greenfield's admirable goal to prove an empirical basis for discussion is . . . an important one."Financial Times

"An important presentation of an uncomfortable minority position."—Jaron Lanier, Nature
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    Mind Change

    A Global Phenomenon

    Let's enter a world unimaginable even a few decades ago, one like no other in human history. It's a two-­dimensional world of only sight and sound, offering instant information, connected identity, and the opportunity for here-­and-­now experiences so vivid and mesmerizing that they can outcompete the dreary reality around us. It's a world teeming with so many facts and opinions that there will never be enough time to evaluate and understand even the smallest fraction of them. For an increasing number of its inhabitants, this virtual world can seem more immediate and significant than the smelly, tasty, touchy 3-­D counterpart: it's a place of nagging anxiety or triumphant exhilaration as you are swept along in a social networking swirl of collective consciousness. It's a parallel world where you can be on the move in the real world, yet always hooked into an alternative time and place. The subsequent transformation of how we might all be living very soon is a vitally important issue, perhaps even the most important issue of our time.1 Why? Because it may be that a daily existence revolving around smartphone, iPad, laptop, and Xbox is radically changing not just our everyday lifestyles but also our identities and even our inner thoughts in unprecedented ways.2 As a neuroscientist, I'm fascinated by the potential effects of a screen-­oriented daily existence on how we think and what we feel, and I want to explore how that exquisitely adaptable organ, the brain, may now be reacting to this novel environment, recently dubbed the "digital wildfire."3

    In the developed world, there is now a one in three chance that children will live to 100 years of age.4 Thanks to the advances of biomedicine, we can anticipate longer and healthier lives; thanks to technology, we can foresee an existence increasingly freed from the daily domestic grind that characterized the lives of previous generations. Unlike so much of humanity in the past and still in many nightmare scenarios around the world, we take it as the norm and as our entitlement not to be hungry, cold, in pain, or in constant fear for our lives. Unsurprisingly, therefore, there are many in our society who are convinced that we're doing just fine, that these digital technologies are not so much a raging wildfire but more of a welcoming hearth at the heart of our current lifestyles. Accordingly, various reassuring arguments are ready at hand to counter reservations and concerns that might otherwise be viewed as exaggerated, even hysterical.

    One starting premise is that surely everyone has enough common sense to ensure that we don't let the new cyberculture hijack daily life wholesale. Surely we are sensible and responsible enough to self-­regulate how much time we spend online and to ensure that our children don't become completely obsessed by the screen. But the argument that we are automatically rational beings does not stand the test of history: when has common sense ever automatically prevailed over easy, profitable, or enjoyable possibilities? Just look at the persistence of hundreds of millions worldwide who still spend money on a habit that caused a hundred million fatalities in the twentieth century and which, if present trends continue, promises up to one billion deaths in this century: smoking.5 Not much common sense at work there.

    Then again, the reliability of human nature might work in our favor if only we could assume that our innate genetic makeup leads most of us to do the right thing, regardless of any corrupting external influences. Yet in itself, this idea immediately runs counter to the superlative adaptability of the human...

About the Author-
  • Susan Greenfield is a neuroscientist, broadcaster, and the bestselling author of The Private Life of the Brain, Tomorrow's People, ID: A Quest for Meaning in the 21st Century, and the novel 2121: A Tale from the Next Century. She is a senior research fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University, an honorary fellow of the Rocal College of Physicians, and a member of the House of Lords.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2014
    A comprehensive overview of the scientific research-albeit in its infancy-into the effects of cybertechnology on our brains.Considering the advances in neurology over the past decade or so, neuroscientist Greenfield (You and Me: The Neuroscience of Identity, 2011, etc.) raises questions with startling implications. How does our screen-oriented daily existence affect how we think, feel, live our lives and shape our identities? What are the consequences of connecting digitally rather than in person or collapsing the frameworks and timetables that have given skeletal stability to our daily lives? Much of the research that Greenfield explores is inconclusive (so far), but in her formal tone, she presents much to ponder. She synthesizes the substantial amount of work that has already been accomplished: how technology in general has been shown to improve working memory, slow cognitive decline through stimulation, and improve visual processing and motor response skills, but also how spending too much time in the digital zone leads to sleep problems, a gathering sense of isolation, "nature-deficit disorder," diminishing face-to-face social skills and a constant level of interruption, which interferes with deep thinking. Yet more important to Greenfield is how the brain "has evolved to respond with exquisite sensitivity to external influences-to the environment it inhabits." Identity, writes the author, "is a...spatio-temporal phenomenon, combining the hardwired, long-term, generalized neuronal network...with momentary consciousness, the fleeting generation of macro-scale coalitions of neurons (assemblies) in less than a second." Connecting these neurons into a unique configuration personalizes the brain and shapes the individual mind. Throughout, the author finds conspicuous problems with the screen life: inattentiveness, problems with reading, a disconnect between actions and consequences and, creepily, the lack of a "you": "your story, your internally driven scenario-above all, for your imagination." Challenging, stimulating perspective from an informed neuroscientist on a complex, fast-moving, hugely consequential field.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    December 1, 2014

    Greenfield (neuroscientist; ID: The Quest for Meaning in the 21st Century; 2121: A Tale from the Next Century) contends that digital technologies are altering our brain patterns such that society may become increasingly narcissistic, shallow, and unsympathetic over time. As evidence, Greenfield provides a literature review on the subject, incorporating peer-reviewed studies, media stories, and anecdotes. Taking social media, video gaming, and Internet browsing in turn, the author describes how these technologies tend to impede concentration and the creation of personal identity. On the whole, because the impact of digital technologies is as yet under study, this book occupies a sometimes uncomfortable space between scholarship and conjecture. Indeed, this work tackles a topic so large as to lose a degree of nuance. For instance, Greenfield draws parallels between the "mindless" thinking of schizophrenics, obese persons, and heavy users of digital technology. Such broad--and emotionally fraught--claims likely merit more careful discussion. However, this book does provide a thought-provoking overview of the issues at hand and will, as hoped, spark further discussion on the impact of digital technology. VERDICT Recommended for undergraduate students and readers of popular science.--Talea Anderson, College Place, WA

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    December 1, 2014
    Neuroscientist Greenfield considers what modern digital technologies have wrought on our brains. Referencing dozens of studies about the Internet, e-books, and video games, she makes it clear that while society's stunning dependence on screen time has certainly transformed our lives, it might also be changing the way we think. Her gravest conclusion might simply be that there is so much we do not know concerning the potential downsides of our online habit. In writing about Facebook, she raises the specter of loneliness and the isolating impact of friending those one never knows. Her analysis of video gaming covers violence and, even more persuasively, how players foster mutual recklessness. While Greenfield is cautious about making definitive statements, she is determined to persuade readers to think about how all our texting, e-mailing, and social networking may be affecting our very brains. Although densely written at times, Mind Change is exceedingly well organized and hits the right balance between academic and provocative. There is no question about the need for us to think more deeply about this topic.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • Michael Harris, author of The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection "In Mind Change, neuroscientist, entrepreneur and British politician Susan Greenfield argues that our technologies are not only addictive--they are an existential threat. The brain, she writes, has an 'evolutionary mandate to adapt to its environment,' and the digital world is changing at too rapid a pace for individuals or government regulations to keep up. . . . Greenfield's application of the mismatch between human and machine to the brain introduces an important variation on this pervasive view of technology. . . . She has rare talent for explaining science in accessible prose."--The Washington Post "How many of us work with six tabs open on a browser, a smartphone within reach and maybe another screen or two nearby? How often does 'I'll just look that up real quick' lead to several hours of indeterminate Googling? Or an impulsive peek at social media turn into a headlong tumble down some cyber rabbit hole? . . . Greenfield's focus is on bringing to light the implications of Internet-induced 'mind change'--as comparably multifaceted as the issue of climate change, she argues, and just as important."--Chicago Tribune "Mind Change is exceedingly well organized and hits the right balance between academic and provocative. There is no question about the need for us to think more deeply about this topic."--Booklist "[A] challenging, stimulating perspective from an informed neuroscientist on a complex, fast-moving, hugely consequential field . . . Greenfield raises questions with startling implications."--Kirkus Reviews "[Greenfield] is not just an engaging communicator but a thoughtful, responsible scientist, and the arguments she makes are well-supported and persuasive."--Mail on Sunday "Greenfield's admirable goal to prove an empirical basis for discussion is . . . an important one."--Financial Times "Greenfield's Mind Change . . . proposes that global climate change can serve as a useful metaphor for how human minds--our inner environments--are, in her view, being recklessly altered by digital technologies. . . . Mind Change is an important presentation of an uncomfortable minority position."--Jaron Lanier, Nature "Greenfield is a lucid and thorough communicator, and this book is highly accessible to those with no knowledge of neuroscience. . . . That I kept being distracted from my reading to check Facebook was less a reflection on the quality of the book than a sobering lesson in how relevant these issues are."--The Independent "Susan Greenfield has produced a gem of a book--written with both verve and impressive clarity--warning not of the obvious dangers like a loss of privacy, but of what technology might do to our brains and social relations, to how we learn and teach, to the narcissism exemplified by 'selfies.' While the author is a scholar, she is never obscure. Nor is she a Luddite, hitting readers over the head with a certitude about our dour future. Rather, she adds a fresh voice, vividly connecting the dots to reveal that 'mind change,' as she calls it, is as vital to grapple with as climate change."--Ken Auletta, author of Googled: The End of the World As We Know It "This is just the book we need now as we proceed to absorb fresh digital innovations: a scientific review of their effects on the brain and what they mean for our minds. Neither a naysayer nor an enthusiast, she is a sober, reliable, and engaging voice on screen experience, telling us what happens inside our heads each time we log on, connect, play, and...
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Mind Change
How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains
Susan Greenfield
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