Digitized Brains

In a sense, the topic of this page underlies all the other topics. Questions about what new media technologies are doing to, or with, the human brain have arisen from many quarters. Much of the questioning is driven by developments in such relatively new areas of research as cognitive neuroscience, epigenetics, and various other scientific and social scientific approaches to technogenesis (the fact that the human species is defined to a large extent by its co-evolution with various tools and technologies).

Brain sciences have, on one hand, brought forth some of the most exciting research in recent decades, and, on the other hand, led to a large amount of very bad, very misleading popular science exegesis. The brief list of books, videos and articles below seeks to represent something of the range of viewpoints in this very rich area of research on what new technologies may be doing to the human brain, and how humans can better understand and influence these interactions.

At one extreme, we have sensationalist accounts of how computer use is destroying the human mind, and on other the other extreme we have techno-utopian rants about a brave new species of techno-enhanced post humans. While there is material to learn from across this range, as in so many other areas of digital culture analysis, much of the best work takes a techno-cultural approach that exaggerates neither human will nor technological inevitability.

Selected Books and Articles

Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. NY: Thatcher/Penguin, 2009. As the title suggests, this extremely one-sided account argues that digital technologies lead inevitably to a steep decline in reading, writing and cognitive skills among regular users.

Bear, Mark, et al. Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2007. Accessible general account of a range of issues in recent brain science.

Brockman, John. ed. Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? NY: Harper, 2011. Wide-ranging collection of short reflections on the issues of the brain and new media.

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. NY: W.W. Norton, 2010. At times sensationalist on the negative side, but a highly readable cautionary account.

Clark, Andy. Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies and the Future of Human Intelligence. London: Oxford UP, 2004. A cognitive scientist's largely positive view of the potential to continue to use technology to expand human mental capacities.

Damasio, Antonio R. Decartes's Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. NY: Penguin, 2005. Deeply influential account of how the mind or consciousness is not located only in the brain, but rather is distributed throughout the human body.

Hansen, Mark B.N. New Philosophy for New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006. Analyzes the affective and bodily experience of digital imagery via a focus on new media art.

Hayles, N. Katherine. "How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine," in Hayles, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technologesis. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2012. This chapter includes a rich, balanced survey of key arguments in the debate about the relationship between digitized experience, and human mental activity via a focus on different modes of reading.

Malabou, Cartherine. What Should We Do with Our Brain? NY: Fordham UP, 2008. Argues that neuroscience discoveries about human brain "plasticity" (historical variability and adaptability) provides an opportunity to more consciously maximize our consciousness as a source of positive political transformation.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.NY: Mentor, 1964. Classic, groundbreaking and deeply influential account of the co-evolution of humans and media technologies from the pre-digital era.

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The Neuroscience of Connecting Brains and Machines, and How It Will Change Our Lives. NY: Holt, 2011. Neuroscientist examining existing research (his and others), and predicting radical developments in brain-computer interfaces and neural prosthetics.

Small, Gary, and Gigi Vorgan. iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alternation of the Modern Mind. NY: Collins, 2008. Hit and miss account by two neuroscientists on some key issues in the digitized brain debate.

Wellmon, Chad. "Why Google isn't Making us Stupid... or Smart." The Hedgehog Review 14.1 (Spring 2012).

Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. NY: Harper, 2007. A prominent neuroscientist specializing on studying the brain during the activity of reading offers a thoughtful, nuanced guide through the complexities of analog reading with implications for thinking about digitized reading processes.

Your Brain on Google!

A Few Videos on Tech and Consciousness: Some Serious, Some Not So Much