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Computers, cells cause evolutionary brain shift

By Andrew Lam   (Shanghai Daily)

09:46, September 24, 2012

(Shanghai Daily /Illustration by Zhou Tao)

Yet another strange and tragic story that involves the social media: A young woman who was being stalked tweeted her impending doom a few days before her murder. "So scared right now," "I got me an uglyass stalker" were some of her tweets.

Then closer to her death, she tweeted, "This can't be happening..." In essence, she was broadcasting events leading to her demise.

Going back a month or so and there's that horrific story about a teenager who lost an arm to an alligator in Florida while swimming with his friends. He heroically fought the reptile and managed to get away minus one limb. But the story couldn't be fully a modern story until somehow it involved the social media.

According to ABC news, before going into surgery to close up his wound, he asked his friend "to snap a photo of him in the trauma unit and post it on Facebook."

Digital world

The examples, of course, are endless. Yet they all seem to suggest man's 21st century response to dramatic events is not necessarily just to simply interact with them, but to also record them.

If communication technology was created to enhance our daily lives, something has dramatically shifted along the way: More and more, we are altering our behaviors in service of the digital world.

So many of us have been raised on video games, cell phones and iPods, and have spent so much of our lives in chatrooms, on Skypes and posting on YouTube that we become news reporters and newsmakers without much of an effort. We announce our actions and, in some cases, our impending demise online without giving it much thought.

We have been so conditioned to invest our emotional life in the virtual space that it has become second nature. And many of us have learned to split our attention, with one eye on the electronic mirror, and the other on reality.

Indeed, more and more, we are beginning to believe that we do not fully exist without some sort of electronic imprint in the virtual world, a digital projection of ourselves, a validation of our existence.

I tweet, therefore I am?

Wafaa Bilal, a photography professor at New York University a couple of years ago went a step further and implanted a camera in the back of his head as part of an art project. The camera broadcast a live stream of images to a museum in Qatar.

On his skull, the real and the digital converge, and the real is photographed for the benefit of the digital.

The trend is "self-tracking," according the Economist, and a market for these devices is rapidly emerging. There are wireless devices that can track people's physical activity, while other devices can take measures of brainwave activity at night to chart people's sleep patterns online.

Perhaps it's too early to tell the long-term effects of an oversaturated information age on human evolution. But according to The New York Times, "Scientists say the constant use of computers and cellular telephones is causing a significant, evolutionary shift in our brain's wiring."

Death of empathy

One of the most troubling consequences of devoting so much attention to the virtual world is the death of empathy.

Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford, told The New York Times that empathy is essential to the human condition. However, given the virtualization of the real world, and tendency for many to multi-task, "we are at an inflection point," he said. "A significant fraction of people's experiences are now fragmented."

Which may very well explain a story that involves professor Bill Nye, popularly known as "the Science Guy" on TV a couple years ago. He collapsed on stage out of exhaustion as he prepared to give a lecture. But instead of rushing to the stage to help him, the LA Times and other media reported, many students in the audience took out their cell phones, snapped photos, texted and tweeted the event.

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Leave your comment2 comments

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PD User at 2012-09-24222.90.159.*
I need some explaination for some difficult sentences,or a chinese version,where can i find it?
PD User at 2012-09-24222.90.159.*
does it have a chinese version?

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