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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Once and Future Brain #2

This week we're looking at the changes that are happening in our communication and how that is changing everything.

So, yesterday we looked at the concept that everything is changing. The world of fifty or even twenty years ago is gone - the way we process information and interact with each other is vastly different. But why?

The picture to the right is an image of neural pathways - the connections made by our brain when ever we use it for anything. A neural pathway is the connection between neurons in our brain. When we're born we have very few neural pathways, but as we experience things we develop new pathways and each time we experience the same thing again that pathway becomes bigger and stronger. Think of it like a trail - the first time you have to blaze the trail, you cut your way through the forest and get where you're going. But if you walk that same path a dozen times, there will be a trail there. If you walk a hundred times, there will be a path. If you keep walking, packing down the dirt and widening the path, eventually you'll have a road.

Our brains are formed like this from the cradle. We make some paths, we abandon others (which, if not used, will soon be overgrown again), and that's what is physically happening when we learn and grow. So the way that we deal with information becomes as important as the information. If we read a story that creates one set of neural pathways, but if we see the movie it creates a different set of pathways.

You might wonder why it can be difficult for people to adopt a new system (think learning to use the new version of Windows or Office) - it's because the neural pathways for the old system are so firmly established that our brains resist change - it's far easier to use the road than to blaze a trail. So if your pathways were created by reading books in a library, your brain wants to treat the internet like books in a library. But if you're brain learned to read on the internet you are more likely to treat books like the internet than vice versa.

Did you catch all that? What I'm saying is that the internet and electronic communication make it so the brains of younger people are literally different from those of older people. The brains of people who are online a lot are very different from those who are rarely online.

So what does that mean? Stay tuned . . .

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