Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thursday Review—PART II: Technology and the Brains of Digital Natives

a guest post by Jackie E. Perry

If you read last Thursday’s blog about Digital Immigrants, you learned a bit about the challenges Digital Immigrants face as their brain attempts to navigate today’s rapidly changing world of technology. Neuroscience research reveals that the hardwired brain of Immigrants may at first resist life in a digital world but because of the malleability of the brain, it can slowly and surely adapt to new technology.   

This week we will discuss technology’s impact on the brains of Digital Natives.  To help you assess whether you are a Native, I have made a checklist a la Jeff Foxworthy.

“You might be a Digital Native if
… as a small child your parents often entertained you with their cellphone or laptop instead of a rattle and some blocks.”
…you have to ask someone what the letters VCR stand for.” 
…your first words were ‘Google’ instead of ‘gaga’!”        

If technology was your primary way to communicate with, record, educate, and understand society as you grew up, you are most certainly a Digital Native. 

Can You Pat your Head and Rub your Belly at the Same Time?

Remember that challenge from grade school? Since many forms of digital technology are typically being utilized at the same time, multitasking for Digital Natives has become a way of life. In his book iBrain, Gary Small reveals that exposure to multiple devices at once, particularly during formative years, affects the neural networking process in the brain. These synaptic connections become hardwired to expect and even desire more than one stimulus at a time.

My teenage daughter, like many Digital Natives, prefers to do her homework with headphones on while toggling between Google, Facebook, Twitter and the inbox on her cellphone. In fact many Natives do quite well balancing more than one thing at a time and often struggle with focus when forced to complete one task at a time! Small notes that some research attributes this shift to changes in cognitive capabilities and increased average IQ scores. Others point out that while there may be an increased breadth of knowledge, the changing brain may now be experiencing limitations in its ability to contemplate, think deeply or fully assimilate concepts or new ideas.  

Hundreds of Friends, Fewer Friendships

Some researchers believe this idea of breadth versus depth may also be impacting the quality of social relationships in this digital era? Many people these days have hundreds or even thousands of “friends” and “followers” online. But could the depth or quality of individual friendships be at risk when digital devices seem to dominate the way many people connect with one another? Since the brain learns and adapts through exposure, when conversational rhythms, intonations, empathic expressions, facial cues and nonverbal expressions are limited, the brain may not adequately develop neural connections that are critical for deep and intimate relationships.   

Tech-Free Brain Training

So while Digital Natives are at an advantage in their ability to scan and assimilate information at rapid rates, when it comes to deep friendships, the digital world cannot sufficiently provide the depth and breadth of social learning that occurs in vivo. In order to help Digital Natives and Immigrants with increased deficits in this area, Small devotes the latter half of his book exercises and tips that will enhance social skills by learning how to empathize, read, listen, focus, and genuinely engage with others for the sake of brain health and human happiness.
 1Marc Prensky, On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001)       

Jackie E. Perry is a counselor, speaker and writer. She has spent the last two decades counseling teens and families. As a dynamic speaker and writer Jackie is passionate about encouraging and equipping parents and professionals to walk purposefully and lovingly alongside adolescents in their final trek toward adulthood. She's married to her best friend and together they are the parents of two teens and one tween.

You can connect with Jackie through her motivational blog,, follow her on Twitter at @Jackieperry67, or you can contact her to speak at your church, organization, or professional group by sending an email to


  1. This is a really interesting topic. My kids are definitely Digital Natives. But we hold them back on the constant use of technology. We prefer they read than spend hours online, on the phone, or watching TV. I'm going to get this book. The exercises about reading social clues sounds fascinating! Thanks Jackie for writing about this topic!

    1. Mary, I am glad you enjoyed this post. As a mom I too strive to find balance for my kids with regard to electronics and reading and relationships. Another great book I would also recommend is by Nicholas Carr called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brain. Small's book is an easier read but Carr's is very well regarded but a little more heady.

    2. Thanks Jackie, I will look into it!

  2. Well, I am definitely a digital dinosaur! But I'm willing to learn if someone can break it down into little, bitty words...

    1. Carol,I think your comment perfectly reflects how we Digital Immigrants must learn things in this digital age, step-by-step. And once we assimilate the process, we can maneuver ourselves just fine! Thank for reading the post!

  3. I'm with you, Carol. My husband is techie, but he often calls me a dinosaur. I'm pretty proud to keep them alive and well - if we don't, who will?

  4. Oh, the post is very interesting. I joke, but I'd really love to be up to speed like my husband and kids.

    1. Kim, tell your techie husband (I am married to one as well!) that we dinosaurs are slowly catching up but we are enjoying our RELATIONSHIPS along the way. Glad you found the post interesting. Blessings, Jackie Perry