on August 26th, 2014

Dear Colleagues,

Various neuroscientists are proposing that the internet and computers are rapidly destroying our brains. Smartphones, video games and social networks provide a poor reproduction of reality and are corrupting our lives (and brains). But there is not too much convincing evidence (as yet) to justify these concerns.

Your Brain is Plastic
As you know - your brain adapts to stimuli (such as from computers) and thus the brain changes from moment to moment. Every experience (including from computers) alters the physical structure of your brain - from reading a specification to talking to your suppliers to agonising over a particularly challenging engineering design problem. New neural networks are formed all the time.

The brain you wake up with is different to the one you go to sleep with.

Some Concerns are Valid
Many colleagues believe they can use Google as a prosthetic memory and don’t need to internalise any facts or information at all. Google has it all. Simply connect up and download all your know-how.

I think this is false economy and one should have an excellent understanding of engineering design issues and a scratch pad of formulas and facts to work from in your head - without resorting to Google or some other software design aid.

Certainly, it is wasteful energy to try and remember arcane details and numbers and this is where Google is excellent. But you can’t expect Google to come up with    hard-won engineering experience and deliver solutions to the daily subtle engineering ambiguities that confront you. You need to have this in your brain.

You do need to regularly exercise your brain with mental challenges and memory tests. As with every ‘muscle’ – if you don’t exercise it; its sharp edge will dull and your decision making will be less optimal.

Take Home Suggestion

  • Keep your brain dynamically active with new know-how and keep testing it with challenges in dealing with awkward engineering problems.
  • Use the internet to feed your know-how exponentially as in drinking from the firehose.
  • Keep building your experience (and testing your brain) with new ways of tackling projects and troubleshooting.

Thanks to the Economist for an interesting article on the topic of : Will the internet eat your brain?

As an old African proverb remarks (with reference to experience): Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve


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