A scientifically rigorous and philosophically challenging argument that digital media is not merely shaping culture, but also the very nature of the human brain.
The debate about the ultimate effects of digital media tends to focus on grand cultural shifts or generational divides. But in this debut nonfiction work, Swingle attacks the issue even more elementally—at the level of neurophysiological function. She asserts that the ubiquity of social media and Internet usage, as well as its immersive character, is changing the way the human brain works—and not entirely for the better. In her nearly two decades of experience as a practicing clinician, Swingle says that she’s seen children suffer from a wide range of disorders resulting from addictive Internet use, including emotional dysfunction, extreme attention deficits, and serious learning disabilities. In adults, she says, she’s seen depression, marital conflict, sexual problems, and anxiety. Her account of the latter is particularly arresting: “In sum, anxiety is on the rise for multiple and somewhat contradictory reasons. We are too busy, yet not busy enough. We put too much pressure on ourselves, but not the right type....We…release tension and then crash, as opposed to calm naturally into healthy fatigue.” She writes that our “brains are speeding up” but not necessarily in a good way, as they’re essentially approximating a constant state of heightened arousal. This, she says, makes ordinary experiences of happiness, including sex, increasingly difficult to enjoy. She engagingly posits that this has led to a narrowing of the range of human thought and the unfortunate substitution of shallow entertainment for deep learning. Overall, Swingle’s research is impressively meticulous, and it soberly avoids a tone of sensationalist alarm even as it depicts genuinely alarming developments. It’s an important contribution to a debate that has lately grown stale and which should be engaged further.
A genuinely original position on a historically significant cultural issue.