Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Much of the connectivity is happening online through social networking sites and internet games, especially for “digital natives” who have grown up in a world dominated by the internet and online media. Additionally, cell phones are commonplace through most of the developed (and much of the developing) world, allowing access to offices, family, friends, entertainment, and information on demand. Those who are now in their teens and early 20s do not remember a world without internet connectivity, and computers are an integral part of many classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. This conference will focus the discipline of neuroscience on the challenges and opportunities presented by our connected world. Participants might include neuroscientists who study information processing and neural plasticity; social and behavioral scientists who study the impact of technology on society; and engineers and modelers who are involved in designing and testing tools and applications used for connecting humans to the internet and each other.
One focus of the conference explored how scientists who study memory, learning, attention and decision-making can work with engineers and educators to develop innovative curricula to help young students develop expertise in dealing with the information overload they will encounter during and after their formal school experience. This situation is compellingly the case for today’s and tomorrow’s medical students and clinical trainees who are called upon to translate ever more rapid medical discoveries into care and prevention while lacking the time to study, absorb and implement the information that accumulated after their training. An added complication presented by today’s “digital world” is that patients’ access to medical information (credible or not) is greater today than ever before (e.g., a patient may see an advertisement for a new medication before a doctor has evaluated the treatment).
Some questions for consideration
-How does the brain process the constant barrage of information individuals are exposed to every day, and are the brains of “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” different in the way they process information?
-What impact does media multitasking have on the ability to synthesize, evaluate and recall information, especially in stressful situations (e.g. medical emergencies)?
-How does internet connectivity affect how we learn, communicate, and behave with each other face-to-face?
-What types of neuroplastic change are occurring in today’s “wired” brains that can be capitalized upon to benefit individuals and society?
-How can we create an environment which will pre-dispose the brain to react in ways we consider ideal?
-What is the value, risks, etc. to an individual and society of the inevitable state of having an individual’s entire “e-Memory” or lifebits in cyberspace forever?