Professor Susan Greenfield warns that excessive use of digital media – think Facebook, Twitter, video games, online newspapers – is fundamentally changing our brains structure. Human beings are, like no other creature, very sensitive to their surroundings. The screen culture will diminish our sense of identity and our empathy.
Creativity will become increasingly important as an expression of individual identity. To demonstrate, Greenfield gave a brief course on current scientific understanding of the human brain. The audience faced a tough but rewarding challenge when they processed the huge amount of information the professor dished out. She quickly outlined how screen culture impacts our very brains in plain language, using humour and irony.
Humans do better than any other species
What does it mean to be born as a human being? Alternatively, how would it be to be born a goldfish? Goldfish don’t have a great personality or individuality. They can be easily replaced without anyone noticing there’s a different fish in the bowl. As the brain gets more sophisticated, there’s more scope for individuality. Humans do individuality and personality better than any other species . Why?
Train your brain by interaction and unique experiences
Humans can learn. We are the only creatures that can adapt to any environment. Our brain is like a muscle. We don’t grow more brain cells, but interaction and unique experiences make us grow branches between the cells. Compare the brain to a trained muscle. The more you exercise, the stronger and larger the muscle becomes. So, train the brain !
Focusing and digesting complex information
By growing more branches you increase the surface area of your brain cells. As a result the cells are able to make more connections. This enables the human brain to focus on ever more complex information, like focusing on a screen, and suddenly being able to interpret the information that comes into view.
Lack of impact in online communications vs real life meetings
Research has shown that when you meet someone in real life, words only have 10% impact, eye contact and body language 55% and tone of voice 35%. And let’s not forget that odour and physical contact also have an impact on our impressions of fellow human beings. All these different stimuli are important to grow more branches between our brain cells. But what about Facebook or Twitter? They offer only words out of all necessary experiences! Excessive use of these online media will make you have less empathy, but even worse, less identity.
The brain will adapt itself to the screen culture, but how?
A question Susan Greenfield already has some ideas about. For example, games will make us better at IQ tests. But what does it do for insights? Multi-tasking makes your brain excel at multi-tasking, but not at actually doing those different tasks well. Our attention span decreases rapidly. Why are there so many cases of ADHD nowadays? Knowledge is not the same as information gathering. To gather true knowledge, based on understanding, you need time. We even get more reckless. Our cognitive abilities will be reduced too. Think about the behavior of people suffering from schizophrenia, obesity or just the conduct of children and gamblers.
Necessity for creativity: Stop the brain working now and then!
So, get away from the screen. Take a break. Relax. Let the creativity in. Wouldn’t it be better to have a society where people are true individuals? Creativity is the apotheoses of being a true individual. It gives you a sense of fulfillment and identity.
Modern art as an example for creativity
Susan Greenfield underlines her point by referring to Damien Hirst’s (one of the world’s leading contemporary artists) ‘The Phycial Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. It consists of a Tiger Shark, preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. Why does this shark make him an artist and the shark itself art? It’s in the perception and experience. Essential ingredients to be creative.