How New Technology Is Rewiring Our Brains

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You think your car radio is broken because it doesn't display the name of the song and the artist. You tap a word on a paperback and wonder why the definition doesn't automatically pop up. You swipe a digit across the screen of your cell phone and all you get are fingerprint smudges.

Then you remember: That isn't a satellite radio. You're reading an actual book, not a Kindle. It's not a smart phone, it's a dumb one. You were expecting the cool capabilities of new technology--from old technology.

“It used to be we wanted to keep up with the Joneses,” says Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World. “Today all we want is to keep up with our gadgets. Technology pervades every aspect of our lives. Our touchscreen existence has literally rewired our brains. Our behavior is also informed by the technology we use. We tap, ping, and Skype [download], all day long.”

So sometimes we get a little flummoxed when confronted by something that isn't digital--like a door that actually requires a key, or a book whose pages don't turn by themselves, or a TV that plays shows in real time with no skipping past the commercials.

Is this a common problem, or are we just spoiled geeks? We asked around. Turns out we're not the only ones who regularly have out-of-technology experiences. Here are some typical ones.

A Lifetime Subscription to TiVo

In researching this article, we found that by far the greatest response was from people who've grown so accustomed to TiVo and other digital video recorders that they want to use them everywhere--not just on TVs, but on movies, car radios, and even conversations.

“Since I can so easily rewind television shows using my TiVo, I am constantly trying to rewind my radio to hear something I've missed,” says Kim Dushinski, author of The Mobile Marketing Handbook. “But I knew I was totally spoiled by technology when I started to want to rewind actual conversations with people. ('I know she told me her name two seconds ago, but I forgot it already. I'll just rewind...oh wait...crud.')”

We can think of other applications. You're taking an awfully long time to get to the point, so I'll just fast-forward through the boring preamble. Gee, that was amazingly cute thing my four-year-old just did. Let me replay that.

“I was driving down the highway, and I saw a billboard that I thought was hilarious,” says Joe Paone, president of PR firm Bee Elevated Communications. “But my wife missed it. My immediate instinct was to press rewind so my wife could see it.”

Regrettably, unless you live inside a cheesy Adam Sandler movie (which would be cause for regret of another magnitude), life does not come with an embedded DVR. For better or worse, we're all stuck with real time.

Just Like an eBook, Only With No Batteries

Remember when publishers used to print books on paper? Actually, they still do. At least for now, anyway. But sometimes it's easy to forget.

“I was reading a book last night, and I wondered whether something I'd just read had been mentioned earlier in the book,” says Dianne Smith, a sales professional in Manchester, Massachusetts. “I wanted to do a search back through the preceding chapters to find the reference. Then I realized I was reading print and would have to flip back page by page. I laughed at myself. But I do love the good old-fashioned pleasure of page turning.”

Sharing electronic text can be a simple matter of pressing a few keys, says Matthew Kammerait, marketing and social media specialist for Quad/Graphics, a $5 billion book and magazine printer in Sussex, Wisconsin. Sharing a physical book? You might have to exchange actual molecules.

“Working on my iPad, iPhone, laptop, etc., I've become very used to sharing just about everything I find interesting with others to foster dialogue,” says Kammerait. “When I'm reading a printed book, I find myself looking for Share widgets on the page.”

That's okay, Matt. We won't tell your bosses.

You Can't Touch This

Once you've gotten used to a smartphone that has a multitouch interface, it's hard to pass a normal screen without at least trying to tap, swipe, or pinch it. Good luck with that.

“I'm so used to my phone being touchscreen that every time somebody hands me a BlackBerry or something, I expect that to be a touchscreen,” says Dan Nainan, a comedian/actor and self-described computer genius. “I've also actually started to touch my laptop screen, even though it is not a touchscreen.”

Maybe Nainan ought to rethink the genius part. Still, he's hardly alone. Gleb Budman says that he, too, finds himself assuming that all screens are touchscreens.

“I walked into a Borders bookstore a few weeks ago, needed to find a specific book, and couldn't quickly find a person to help me,” recalls Budman, CEO of Backblaze, an online backup service. “I saw a big screen at the information desk showing various books and tried tapping it to search. Tap. Tap tap. Tap tap tap. Oh, it's a 'dumb screen.' Back to searching for a person.”

Even if it a display is a touchscreen, it may not respond to your touch in exactly the way that your own touchscreen device does.

“As owner of an HTC Evo and an iPad, I constantly attempt Android gestures on the iPad, and vice versa,” says Jeff Sass, chief evangelist for mobile entertainment provider Myxer. “I'm always frustrated when they don't produce the same results. “We are spoiled by the gestures we learn, which is frustrating when we move from device to device.”

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