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Tech Q&A

Gary Small

Describe your latest project.
We know that technology is changing our lives, but it is also changing our brains. The average young person spends more than eight hours each day using technology (computers, PDAs, TV, videos) and much less time engaged in direct social contact. Our UCLA brain scanning studies are showing that such repeated technology exposure alters brain circuitry, and young developing brains, which usually have the greatest exposure, are the most vulnerable. Instead of the traditional generation gap, we are witnessing the beginning of a brain gap separating digital natives, born into 24/7 technology, and digital immigrants, who came to computers and other digital technology as adults.

I believe that this perpetual technology exposure is leading to the next major milestone in brain evolution. Over 300,000 years ago, our Neanderthal ancestors discovered hand-held tools, which led to the co-evolution of language, goal-directed behavior, social networking, and accelerated development of the frontal lobe, which controls these functions. Today, video-game brain, Internet addiction, and other technology side effects appear to be suppressing frontal lobe executive skills and our ability to communicate face-to-face. Instead, our brains are developing circuitry for on-line social networking and adapting to a new multitasking technology culture. In my new book, iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, I define this brain evolutionary event and offer strategies for upgrading the technology skills of digital immigrants and teaching better social skills to digital natives in order to bridge the brain gap.

  1. iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind
    $5.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "A compelling as well as timely read, this is highly recommended..." Library Journal
What inspires you to sit down and write?
My wife, Gigi Vorgan, is my writing partner. Our conversations about what we are about to write are engaging, challenging, and ultimately inspiring.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
John Frisius was an extraordinary character who taught Shakespeare for high school juniors and seniors. He was irreverent and compassionate. He inspired us to want to learn and showed us how to do it. He taught us that Shakespeare was not just a great playwright, but he had a great understanding of the human psyche.

What do you do for relaxation?
Reading historical and contemporary fiction while drinking ice tea by the pool.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
It was a tie between The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk and Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
Nearly all of the new technology can improve our lives if used correctly. PDAs, computers, etc., keep us connected; medical technologies help diagnose illnesses and treat them sooner and more effectively. It's not the technology that defines the benefit, but how it is used.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Einstein, because he had a cutting-edge scientific mind as well as an active spiritual life.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
I was great at math, but challenged by auto shop.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
If we stay on track, we'll be treating Alzheimer's disease the way we treat high cholesterol — people will get a "brain check" for the doctor to prescribe a drug or vaccine to delay brain aging. Computer/brain interface devices will allow us to "beam" our thoughts to our PDAs, which might in fact be implanted, so there will be no need for a traditional cell phone.

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Gary Small, M.D. is the Director of the Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA. His research has made the headlines of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and USA Today, among other publications. Scientific American magazine has named him one of the world's top innovators in science and technology.

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