The Human Brain Continues to Adapt to Our Digital Ways

By Lauren Haberkorn

Photo of mobile device keyboardWhen walking around Marquette’s campus, through the library, Cudahy, or Johnston Hall it would be hard to spot someone that isn’t texting, listening to their iPod, or doing work on a computer. We seem to constantly be multitasking.

According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, young people spend at least seven-and-a-half hours a day with media (computers, cell phones, TV or music), and by frequently multi-tasking, they are packing in the equivalent of nearly 11 hours of content – which is an increase from nearly six-and-a-half hours a day, or eight-and-a-half hours of media multitasking from just six years ago!

Based on these facts, many people wonder if the generation growing up in this environment will all be afflicted with attention deficit disorder – does electronic and social media impair our ability to focus on one thing at a time?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been conducting a study scanning the brains of 1,000 kids every year with an MRI (a machine that scans the brain and can show researchers what the brain is doing while it is active (thinking).

NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams recently conducted a series titled, “The Teen Brain: A Work in Progress.” As part of this series, spoke with neuroscientist Jay Giedd, who studies child psychiatry with the National Institute of Health.

In a related  article on, writer Linda Carroll broke down the interview and quoted Jay Giedd saying, “For better or for worse, kids these days have access to a world of information. To me, that’s overwhelmingly positive. Knowledge is power and these days you can look up anything — I think that outweighs the distractibility.”

She pointed out that Jay Geidd also contends that the human brain can change, our brains will continue to develop as the world does and adapt to changes, inventions, and distractions, “Reading is a very good example. People lived and died without ever reading a single word…I think the current generation can have the best of both worlds. They’ll get good at multitasking, which they’re likely to be doing in their adult jobs. But they can also develop the skills to zero in when they need to.”

In this writer’s opinion, growing up with all the advances that technology provides is good preparation for a world in which multi-tasking skills are expected in many (if not most) careers, and will ultimately prove to be an advantage for young minds.

Lauren Haberkorn is a junior studying Corporate Communication in the Diederich College of Communication

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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