digital brain 2

Appropriate Use of Technology in Education

The overarching insight in neuroscience the past decade is:

‘Brain and environment are one, interdependent, reciprocal dynamic process. Change the environment and you change the brain.'

The human brain created Technology that changed the environment that is now changing the brain. In the mid 1800’s Emerson, cautious of the industrial revolution, noted; the weaver becomes the web.

Yes, technology is here to stay, and like guns and sugar can be very useful in moderation. The typical young child, teen and adult however, invest five or more hours each day relating to flat, two dimensional screens. Relating to a flat screen with eyes and fingers is sensory deprivation compared to swinging on a rope and dropping in a rushing stream.

Screen based technologies are all ‘virtual’. To have an appropriate relationship with a virtual reality one must first have a well-developed physical, emotional, cognitive foundation in what used to be the only reality – natural experience and relationship based and perception.

Introduce virtual reality too early, when the natural reality is still forming and you displace, push aside, critical experiences in the development and stabilization of that natural reality. Do this, and do it in mass and we weaken the core foundation upon which individual and collective life and all its complexities rest.

Consider the crippling retardation of descriptive language as it has been pushed aside by screen based technologies. We have moved from Tom Sawyer to Spiderman. Every picture displaces the need for a thousand descriptive words. Descriptive language is the only way imagination unfolds, imagination being the brains capacity to create inner images not present to the senses, which Einstein openly and correctly declared is much more important than knowledge. Push aside symbol and metaphor with pictures and we retard the capacity to deal with abstractions such as mathematics and science. Imagination is THE core capacity upon which all higher human potentials depend. Knowledge is content. Knowledge without imagination however, is like fireworks on the fourth of July without a match and that is what we have.

It is capacity not content that ‘real’ learning cultivates. The whole body, feeling, movement and thought, in the moment, interacting with the natural world – not some buzzing, flashing, gadget – this rich ‘organic’ engagement and experience, running, jumping, squishing with fingers, smelling, laughing, changing, bigger, smaller, heavy, light, hot, cold, wet, rough, smooth, symphony of three dimensional sounds, and the quiet, intuitive inner ‘knowing’ and shared meaning of real communion with our ‘god given’ natural universe. That is what learning is.

Reality is brain development dependent. Introducing screen – and that means image based technologies - to young children, before age eleven, is like feeding steak to a baby or sexually explicit material to a seven year old. The developing ‘reality’ is not prepared nor is it stable enough to ‘appropriately’ digest these inappropriate experiences. All the so called ‘learning’ that is taking place, at a precious price in terms of money and more importantly in the child’s attention and true whole development is placed on a malnourished foundation.

Virtual reality is sensory deprivation to the developing brain, similar in many ways to bottled feeding. Not only is bottle feeding ‘junk’ food compared to the infinitely more complex nature of the breast but it displaces the touch, smell, the warmth, the heartbeat, the closeness of mother’s loving smile, not to mention the pleasure that mother and baby, possibly even orgasmic pleasure the shared experience offers. The pleasure inducing hormones released through this simple experience is the glue that bonds human relationships for a life time, not only mother and baby but baby and the natural world. Technology has none of these ‘experiences.’ The developing body and brain weaned on technology is more selfish, less empathic, far less imaginative, less connected to the ‘real’ natural, organic world around him or her.

The known addictive techniques the gaming industry use are exploitive to the young child’s body, emotions and mind. Like pimps the gaming and most of the so called – educational media products –steal all these living, moving, relationship based experiences for a profit and call their dolled up prostitute-products ‘learning.’ I know. I am a documentary film maker and have studied and developed media for 30 years.

Yes, technology is here to stay. So are genetically engineered food, toxic pollution in the environment, radiation in the air, food and water and our bodies, broken families, domestic violence, corruption from sea to shining sea, sexual exploitations and addictions of every kind. All these are here to stay but are they necessary and appropriate? Do we cozy up to, embrace and become these or do we see the dangers they represent to ourselves and to our child’s ‘real’ development and put them in their proper place?

A question the blind leading the blind can’t ask is: ‘Does a population deprived of what was normal and natural (organic) developmental experiences have the capacity to know what they have missed?’ Obviously not.

Those who are color blind experience their monochromatic world as ‘normal.’ If they ruled the world, published the text books, sat on school boards, like Midas, everything they touched would be beautifully black and white. Systemic sensory deprivation alters the perceptual baseline we call reality. Entire colors of the human potential spectrum can disappear in a single generation and won’t ever be missed. In there lies the rub.

Michael Mendizza

Michael Mendizza
Virtual Reality is Sensory Deprivation

Jerry Mander
on media, the mind and democracy

Ralph Nader
On corporate exploitation of children

Joseph Chilton Pearce
Play is Learning

Bev Bos
Tour of the Roseville Preschool

James W. Prescott, PhD
The origins of love and violence,
how sensory deprivation impacts the developing brain.

Marian Diamond, PhD
Enriching Heredity, how stimulation grows the brain