Baroness Susan Greenfield has been spouting off some bad neuroscience, I’m afraid. She’s on an anti-social-networking-software, anti-computer-games, anti-computer crusade that sounds a bit familiar — it’s just like the anti-TV tirades I’ve heard for 40-some years — and a little bit new — computers are bad because they are “changing the workings of the brain“. Ooooh.
But to put that in perspective, the brain is a plastic organ that is supposed to rewire itself in response to experience. It’s what they do. The alternative is to have a fixed reaction pattern that doesn’t improve itself, which would be far worse. Greenfield is throwing around neuroscientific jargon to scare people.
So yes, using computers all the time and chatting in the comments sections of weird web sites will modify the circuitry of the brain and have consequences that will affect the way you think. Maybe I should put a disclaimer on the text boxes on this site. However, there are events that will scramble your brains even more: for example, falling in love. I don’t want to imagine the frantic rewiring that has to go on inside your head in response to that, or the way it can change the way you see the entire rest of the world, for good or bad, for the whole of your life.
Or, for an even more sweeping event that had distinct evolutionary consequences, look at the effect of changing from a hunter-gatherer mode of existence, to an agrarian/urban and modern way of life. We get less exercise because of that, suffer from near-sightedness, increased the incidence of infectious disease, and warped our whole pattern of activity in radical ways. Not only do neural pathways have to develop in different ways to cope with different environments, but there was almost certainly selection for urban-compatible brains—people have died of the effects of that shift. Will Baroness Greenfield give up her book-writin’, lecturin’ ways to fire-harden a pointy stick, don a burlap bag, and dedicate her life to hunting rabbits?