Clues suggest that computers may dehumanise children

The reason that mankind is so successful is that our brains have evolved to adapt to our environment. So it follows that if you use a computer for many hours a day and develop an obsessional cyber-life, then the brain will obligingly adapt, too.

I have heard a sad story about a little girl who was in the kitchen using a new toaster, and asked her father: “Do I put the slice of bread in portrait or landscape?”

Our brain is susceptible to everything. It is not as though we have a fixed brain and that going on an “evil” computer changes it. Technology is neutral. But because it is very sophisticated, people think that it leads us when, really, we are the masters. We should be asking how we are going to use technology to enhance our lives, as well as what we want it to teach our children.

For that, we need to be in the driving seat. We should talk about it and decide collectively, as a society, what we want to do. We need to involve parents, to find out what they think, because, at the moment, evidence is purely anecdotal.

Evidence of a link between spending too much time staring at computer screens and physical changes in the brain that lead to attention and behaviour problems is accumulating. As with cancer and smoking in the 1950s, you start off by seeing a trend, and that is what makes you suspect that there might be a causal link.

A recent study by Wei Qin Kai Yuan from Xidian University, in China, found brain structure abnormalities in adolescents with internet addiction disorder. While one study is not enough to prove the link, it is cause for concern.

However, we cannot afford to wait 10 or even 20 years to monitor the changes to a child’s identity, to their attention span, to the way they think, to the way they reason. Many of us have perceived a change in the way children today empathise with others. Studies among American college students have found a trend of decreasing empathy during the same time that social networking has risen to prominence. It is a mighty suspicious coincidence.

In Britain, a shocking case reflects this decline of empathy among the young. Schoolgirl Rebecca Aylward was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who had made a bet to kill her in exchange for a friend buying him breakfast. After battering the 15-year-old to death with a rock, Joshua Davies, 16, updated his Facebook page to say he was “chilling” with friends.

— Baroness Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford.
–Telegraph Group and Dominion Post

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