I guess I made clear in the precious post what I believe should be the answer to the question “Are social networks and screens changing our brains?”. A strong a clear yes, and I would add “there is nothing new in this”.
It may be worth taking a step forward, that is move from “learning” to “imagination” a feature that emerges from complex brains.
Technology in these last years has opened the way to immersion in virtual world, with a full palette of nuances, from worlds where only a few artificial elements are present (augmented reality), worlds where the real is the starting point with artefacts providing additional elements, to worlds where artefacts have their own existence and interplay with reality (mixed reality) to finish with worlds where everything, but the observer, is artificial (virtual reality).
The key point here is “immersion”, to be understood as the loss of perception of a dividing line between real and artificial between the physical space and the artificial one.
Arts, most notably cinema, theatre and literature succeed in taking us in the play, fading away the boundary of the real space. We get transported inside the play becoming part of it.
Modern technologies (that in a way have just started to have an impact in this area) will make stepping into the artificial world an everyday experience and this, in turns, will lead to an evolution/change of our brain creating a sort of symbiosis with the artificial ambient, at least this is my bet.
Indeed, whilst an immersive experience at a movie theatre is limited in time and becomes immersive because of pre-existing structures in our brain (like the interpretation of saccadic movements by the brain) if we are subjected to prolonged experience of augmented/virtual reality a physiological adaptation of our brain is likely to follow, to match the new “reality”.
A few studies (like the ones at Stanford) are showing how the brain tends to assimilate virtual reality projecting the “self” in that space that therefore becomes the new reality. More than that. The experiences lived in that virtual reality will impact the perception of the “real” reality and this should not come as a surprise if we acknowledge that those experiences are not just “memorised” but change the way our brain works.
Daily exposure to virtual interactions, mediated by screens and goggles in a seamless way, are becoming, and will become, the norm. We are already seeing differences in the way we, elderly, interact with the world with the way youngsters do. For them the world of bits is an integral part of the world, there is seamless continuity between the world of atoms and the one of bits. The evolution of Digital Twins, I discussed in a previous post, to stage 4 is in synch with this trend, reality and artificial reality overlap into a new reality.
Roads and writings have become engrained in our relation with the world, we feel lost when we find ourselves in places where these usual landscape is not available. Why shouldn’t it be the same once we grow accustomed to the presence of artefacts in our everyday life?
The adoption (just starting) of augmented and virtual reality in education (it has already rooted in some areas of professional education/activity) is not just making, at least hat is the goal, education more effective, it is reshaping the brain vision of the world and this might be an unexpected side effect. Whether this is a good or a bad one is still open to discussion.