In iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Gary Small writes, “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains. Daily exposure to high technology–computers, smart phones, video games, search engines like Google and Yahoo–stimulates brain cell alteration and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones. Because of the current technological revolution, our brains are evolving right now–at a speed like never before.”
We often note that rapid technological advances are changing the way we live our lives, the shape of our days, the way we read, the way we learn. Generally, we describe this process as a social change. I’m fascinated by this excerpt from Small’s book, because it suggests that we are changing in a far more profound way, at a cellular level. The neurons in our brains are literally rewiring themselves in order to create pathways to accommodate our increasing interaction with computers and digital technology.
Some questions: Does reading a digital text require that we first rewire our brains? Does reading digital texts change the way we read other non-digital texts? It often seems as though new media is impossible (or difficult) to interpret, because we have no tried and true analytical strategies. I wonder, though, if our increasing dependence on technology will eventually make it impossible (or difficult) for us to read old media forms. If we spent a year doing nothing but analyzing digital poetry, would this enhance or hinder our ability to read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman?
Another almost entirely unrelated musing: I’ve been considering ways that one might teach a class in (not on) the World of Warcraft, and it occurred to me today that it would probably be a perfect environment for a class on Walt Whitman. Walt would appreciate the exercise, I think. Now, where in Azeroth should I start breaking ground on my WoW University?