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Book Review: iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind

ibraincoverDon’t bother with iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind by Dr. Gary Smalls and his partner Gigi Vorgan unless:

1. you are a Baby Boomer who is feeling overwhelmed with the web, and would like to commiserate with one of your own.

2. if you are internet addicted and in turn socially inept (there are a few pages of well-worn self-help advice on how to improve your social interactions and get off the web).

Interspersed in these split personality pages are a few references to fMRI studies about which areas of the brain light up when we are completing internet tasks. You won’t be able to pinpoint the studies, though, because the authors don’t use notations. No footnotes, no endnotes, just a list of references in the back of the book.  They do list their references but we have no idea which studies go to which fleeting mention.

The book is ok, but it can’t decide which way it wants to go. As someone who is under 40 (Generation X) and considers herself a digital native (I had a computer in my house in the late 70’s), I found this book to be downright offensive at times.  The anecdotal examples of exaggerated technology-addicted situations were inane and sensationalistic with fear. It’s the typical refrain we hear constantly from the stereotypically selfish and self-focused “me” generation of Baby Boomers.

The “evolution” that the authors posit is just silly.  We all know that evolution doesn’t happen within a single generation.  That would mean that my children have a different brain structure than my mother because I grew up with technology, have been on the internet since 1988, and have worked deep in computer systems administration.  That’s not possible.  The authors should instead use “adapt” instead of “evolve.”  There should be more emphasis on what is known in academic circles as “brain plasticity.”  The brain is a wondrous thing and can utilize different parts in different ways.

If we are indeed seeing a new generation of socially inept people, it’s the culture of the internet that has influenced their behavior.  The tools haven’t morphed our brains down to the DNA and protein levels.  The culture is the thing changing because of the tools, but this is how it has always been.  Telephones, fax machines, cars and television haven’t changed that basic human brain structure that gets passed down from generation to generation. There is no true “evolution” happening because of the existence of lolcats (I’m sure the authors know this, and have just postulated an overblown theory to get attention for the book).

Unless you are in said state of panic about the internet and its implications, skip this book. The small self-help parts aren’t going to help you. Dr. Smalls probably meant for you to read them to your WoW-addicted daughter.

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