This is your brain on technology!

by | Monday, February 07, 2011

May years ago I wrote an essay titled On becoming a website. It was about my experience on teaching online and I suggested somewhat facetiously that in order to be a good teacher online I needed to actually “become” the course website! I started the essay by describing the idea of a cyborg:

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism — a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction. It has been argued that we are all cyborgs now (Haraway, 1991). Be it a pacemaker installed in our hearts or a pair of contact lenses in our eyes, technologies are now an integral part of our bodies and our consciousness. … Of course these socially (and increasingly biologically) embedded technologies often become transparent and, in some sense, so deeply intertwined with our existence that we don’t even realize they exist (Brooks, 2002).

Now this idea of a cyborg was somewhat of a rhetorical move, to generate interest in the topic I was writing about. So imagine my surprise when I read the following paragraph.

They gave her The Device when she was only 2 years old. It sent signals along the optic nerve that swiftly transported her brain to an alternate universe—a captivating other world. By the time she was 7 she would smuggle it into school and engage it secretly under her desk. By 15 the visions of The Device—a girl entering a ballroom, a man dying on the battlefield—seemed more real than her actual adolescent life. She would sit with it, motionless, oblivious to everything around her, for hours on end. Its addictive grip was so great that she often stayed up half the night, unable to put it down.

When she grew up, The Device dominated her house: no room was free from it, no activity, not even eating or defecating, was carried on without its aid. Even when she made love it was the images of The Device that filled her mind. Psychologists showed that she literally could not disengage from it—if The Device could reach the optic nerve, she would automatically and inescapably be in its grip. Neuroscientists demonstrated that large portions of her brain, parts that had once been devoted to understanding the real world, had been co-opted by The Device.

What a terrible terrible story. How and why did the parents give the device to a 2 year old! Is this kind of brain damage reversible?

So what IS this device? Well turns out it is a book!

Go back and read the passage again, making that switch! How does that feel?

I had written earlier about Douglas Adams’ rules about technology

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.  (p. 95).

It seems to me that this quote, which incidentally is taken from an article in Slate Magazine, reviewing Sherry Turkle’s latest book, captures the manner in which new technologies are often seen to go against “the natural order of things.”

Whether we like it or not, we are all cyborgs now.

A few randomly selected blog posts…

Does the Internet mean that knowledge is obsolete?

I was recently interviewed by Wired magazine for a story about Sugata Mitra's (of Hole in the Wall fame) experiments with minimally invasive learning, or more recently what are called SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment) classrooms / schools. I have been...

Guide on the side, the GPS story

People have often argued that digital technologies change the role of teachers from (as it is commonly described) a "sage on the stage" to a "guide on the side." Personally, I have my doubts about this, complicated somewhat by my recent experiences with GPS...

TPACK Newsletter, Issue #18, December 2013

TPACK Newsletter, Issue #18: December 2013 Welcome to the eighteenth edition of the (approximately bimonthly) TPACK Newsletter! TPACK work is continuing worldwide. This document contains recent updates to that work that we hope will be interesting and useful to you,...

June 18 or June 25, 1178?

In my summer teaching I often start the day with some examples of interesting things that happened that day in history. It is a fun way to start the day, and I seek to find examples that connect with things/issues we are covering in class, often related to technology,...

Games, claims, genres & learning

Foster, A. N., Mishra, P. (in press). Games, claims, genres & learning. In R. E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in education. [PDF document] Abstract: We offer a framework for conducting research on games for learning. Building on a...

AACTE Major Forum Presentation

I include below a copy of the AACTE Major Forum presentation (announcement here) that I made at New Orleans on Saturday, February 9. There were other things that I participated in (as listed here) and I will post about them later. Matt was supposed to do this talk (as...

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TechTrends is a leading journal for professionals in the educational communication and technology field and is the official publication of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). The current issue has 5 articles devoted to the TPACK...

Barcode yourself

Now that all of us are commodities, with personal brand names (and brand value) it is time to take the next step. It is time to get your own barcode! A quick scan with a barcode reader and your worth will be known to one and all. I was prompted to thinking of this...


  1. Bullying Speaker

    The brain is amazing to study. Comparing it to a website reminds me of the ever-changing web. There is no way to fill the internet as our brain will never be full to capacity. Very interesting twist to the paragraphs you posted. We are all cyborgs.

  2. Youth Speaker

    Very solid post! Having studied distance learning in my graduate coursework, I can completely understanding “becoming the website” mentality. Once had an instructor tell us that we had to live and breathe the website content as an online instructor.

  3. Youth Motivational Speaker

    Funny how the ‘we are all cyborgs’ quote was from 1991. How much more is it the case now, 20 years later!

    I love Adams 3 rules of technology, although it could be argued that numbers need to be adjusted. Thanks for the post!



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