Poison Apple: Technology Fads Make Your Kids Dumber

Don’t assume that any technology labeled “educational” is an unalloyed good.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

kids on screens

Alone together. No social interaction among the group of four.

Two award-winning teachers with more than 30 years of classroom experience say that kids are getting dumber.* The sad part is that they’re getting dumber because of what’s happening in our schools. Teachers today are working harder than ever, parents are paying greater attention, and standards are higher than they’ve ever been.

But the history of education is a history of fads. Remember “whole math” and “open schools”—no interior walls so that ideas would flow freely? Today, “flipped classrooms,” “block scheduling,” and “professional learning communities” are part of a long wave of over–promised panaceas.

No fad consumes decision makers as much as technology in the classroom. Superintendents aim to arm each student with a digital device, or have a bring–your–own–device policy. The assumption is that any technology labeled educational is an unalloyed good. But this assumption needs to be seriously questioned. Continue reading

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Talk on Neuroaesthetics in Istanbul

hand_drawn_designWhat draws people to abstract art? Why are paintings of Campbell’s soup cans worth millions of dollars?

Next week I’ll be speaking at the 14th Istanbul Biennial on relations between art and neuroscience, metaphoric thinking and embodied perception. A book signing follows. The 2015 Biennial, entitled Saltwater: A Theory of Thought Forms, brings artists and scientists together in 30 venues on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus River to explore how the brain navigates through states of instability and fragmentation, and re–aggregates them in the artistic process. Learn more about the Instanbul Biennial here and here and here. See you on the Bosphorus!

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Addicted to Our Screens, or Merely Obsessed?

Digital distractions collide with the brain’s fundamental attention limits.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

odd CoupleHow often do you hear—or think to yourself— “I’m addicted to my phone,” to “Facebook,” Instagram, or some other social media venue? Are we actually really addicted in the way that people become addicted to alcohol, gambling, or drugs?

Scientists debate whether we truly are. What no one seems to dispute is that our attention spans have gone to hell.
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Digital Distractions: Your Brain on Screens

Check out “Your Brain on Screens,” my article published in the American Interest. Also, here is a podcast where I discuss the topic with Richard Aldous:


Scientists debate whether we are truly addicted to our devices. They also question whether the internet makes us dumber by weakening memory or smarter by showering us with facts, and whether social apps isolate us more than they connect us. What no one seems to dispute is that our attention spans have gone to hell.

brainonscreens“Social media fatigue”, I said to the dozen tenth-graders in the paneled library of Ft. Lauderdale’s Pine Crest School. “Who’s heard of it? Has anyone felt it?”

The students remained silent. Nothing beats silence to make teenagers blurt out their thoughts. I let the silence hang until a blond, acne-afflicted 15-year-old swathed in a green varsity jacket slowly raised his hand. Continue reading

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Belfast, ME: Synesthesia Talk & Book Signing

Sunday, June 28, 3 o’clock p.m. at the Old Professor’s Bookshop,  99 Main Street.Synestheia talk on Creativite, and book signing of Wednesday is Indigo Blue.

Do you see letters and numbers as colored even though they are printed in black ink? Do words have specific tastes, or does music or everyday sounds make you see colored, moving shapes? If so, you are among the 4% of the population with the neurological trait of synesthesia—the involuntary coupling of the senses.

Join us for an intriguing TED-style synesthesia talk and book signing of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, winner of the Montaigne Medal. Author–neurologist Richard E. Cytowic, MD, MFA will discuss synesthesia and creativity, and how its workings affect us all. Visit http://Cytowic.net, or follow him @Cytowic.

Belfast, Maine  •  OPB@myfairpoint.net  •  207-338-2006

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Podcast: Digital Distractions & Your Brain on Screens

Listen to my talk with Richard Aldous on “Your Brain on Screens.”

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Cause and Effect in Wine Drinkers’ Health

It isn’t the wine, but what’s in the rest of the shopping cart.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Just how scientifically illiterate is the American public? Woefully so, it turns out. A common error is that people mistake correlation with causation. If you do “A” and then “B” happens, then A “must have” caused B, right?

Afraid not. Correlation and causation are entirely different creatures. When the rooster crows, the sun rises. But are you going to conclude that the rooster causes the sun to rise? Of course not. There is a hidden third force at work, the rotation of the earth that is the actual cause of sunrise. Continue reading

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Bethesda Talk on Synesthesia and Book Signing May 27

May 27, 10 a.m. at the Wednesday Morning Group, Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda MD, 20814.Wed_Blue

Richard E. Cytowic, MD, MFA speaks about the crossed–senses of synesthesia, how it relates to creativity, and the challenge it poses to brain-inspired “neuromorphic” computing such as IBM’s Watson. A book signing follows his talk.

The Wednesday Morning Group (wmgroup.org) is a weekly meeting of curious individuals who engage guest speakers and one another.Founded 50 years ago, the organization is open to all (a guest fee of $5 is requested). Typical lectures cover current events, literature, art, education, and social issues.

Dr. Cytowic’ s talk is followed by a book signing of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, winner of the Montaigne Medal (cash or check only, please).  For further queries contact Julie Goodman juliegoldberggoodman@gmail.com.

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All Fall Down: A Novel

Here is my review of Jennifer Weiner’s “All Fall Down: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

allfalldown

“How glibly addicts deceive themselves.”

“I’d escape from rehab. Then maybe take myself to a spa for a few days. Fresh air, long hikes, nothing stronger than aspirin and iced tea. That was the ticket.” How glibly addicts deceive themselves.

In All Fall Down, Jennifer Weiner’s 11th novel now in its paperback release, we meet Allison W., a successful, over-educated suburbanite who seemingly has it all—husband, career, treasured daughter, big house—everything she thought she wanted. Continue reading

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The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

Here is my review of Michael Crawford’s “The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” at the New York Journal of Books:

beyondhead

“The lack of direct immersion and the increasing rarity of actual face-to-face interactions are the true cause of our anomie . . . and our isolation in a supposedly ever- connected world.”

Here is another commentary on declining attention spans and our increasingly fragmented lives. Except in The World Beyond Your Head Matthew B. Crawford argues that we complain about the wrong thing: technology is more a symptom than a cause. Attention entails more than individual minds because it has become a cultural problem.

Crawford is senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. His book goes past pop psychology to weave a sophisticated philosophical argument about the challenges of mastering one’s own mind. His earlier book, Shop Class As Soul Craft, was hailed by the Financial Times as “a next–Generation Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

“Ours is now a highly mediated existence in which . . . we increasingly encounter the world through representations.” This disembodiment of perception, the lack of direct immersion, and the increasing rarity of actual face-to-face interactions are the true causes of our anomie, our isolation in a supposedly ever-connected world, and our sense of being overwhelmed. Continue reading

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Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives

Here is my review of Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives” at the New York Journal of Books:

beterthanbefore

“will her recipe that combines research, personal anecdotes, and social media feedback prove superior to existing advice, or will it fall like a failed soufflé?”

Most of the time we behave unthinkingly, which is to say by habit. Habits define our existence and our future, says Gretchen Rubin in Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. If you accept that we repeat 40% of our behaviors every day, that they are the “invisible architecture of our everyday lives,” then what she says should give us pause.
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The Doomsday Equation

Here is my review of Matt Richtel’s “The Doomsday Equation: A Novel” at the New York Journal of Books:

doomsday

“The algorithm was the equivalent of giving the world a blood test, taking its temperature, assessing its mood.”

The domains of big data collection, mathematical algorithms, machine intelligence, and human ambition collide magnificently in The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel.

At its simplest, the multilayered plot gives wunderkind Jeremy Stillwater three days to prevent the outbreak of World War III. Unfortunately, no one believes him given that his sandpaper personality has alienated all his former supporters and fueled his many enemies. That his algorithm can accurately predict global conflicts counts for naught in the eyes of the countervailing operatives in this thriller.
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Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains

Here is my review of Susan Greenfield’s “Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains” at the New York Journal of Books:

mindchange

“Anything we practice repeatedly changes the brain; fixate on iPhones and similar screens, and we become better at staying helplessly glued to them.”

For eons humans have adapted splendidly to every niche on the planet. In the digital era our brains have likewise been adapting to the increasing bombardment of data, and the results are decidedly mixed. So says Baroness Susan Greenfield, a much–decorated neuroscientist and former director of Britain’s Royal Institution.
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5 Reasons Alcohol Makes You Fat

It’s not the carbs or sugar that go to your waistline, it’s the booze.

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Alcohol's empty calories quickly go towards fat.

Alcohol’s empty calories quickly go towards fat.

Alcoholic beverages don’t feature nutrition labels the way that other foods we eat do. The food police might rail against sugar, fats, and over-processing. But nutritionist Nicole Senior, allied with the University of Sydney that invented the glycemic index, points to alcohol as “the pink elephant in the room.”

At the very least, alcohol poses a five–fold challenge for those trying to watch their waistline. Continue reading

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Radiomen

Here is my review of Eleanor Lerman’s “Radiomen” at the New York Journal of Books:

radiomen

“There was something really interesting going on somewhere just beyond the edges of what our eyes could see.”

This novel has an inspiring premise and an even better plot. It’s a hybrid between conventional novel and science fiction. At its best, as sci-fi fans know, the genre is about far more than aliens and gizmos. Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing once said that science fiction had its second-tier reputation only because so few good writers had attempted the form.

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