Zombies on the Brain Redux: Return of the Baroness

Just a quick note. As most of you are probably aware, in the past week a bit of a furor has erupted on the interwebs regarding a certain UK Noblewoman’s concerns regarding our free time, and it’s impact on our brain. Susan Greenfield has written extensively, if without much depth, on the need to sound the alarm regarding how much time we spend staring at a screen. Thank goodness the kind, brillant minds have responded, and they’ve done so negatively. I’m not going to reproduce the debate here, but it suffices to say Susan’s now been shredded publicly by both world-leading Autism experts and folks who actually research our digital habits.Anyway, this is just a short post to share my view on the whole thing:

It’s not that i’m not sympathetic to the idea we spend too much time in front of a screen. It’s levying the weight of that argument around some BS neurobabble. The brain, and it’s astounding capacity for change, need not enter this debate in an alarmist fashion. If we want to discuss how our society spends its time, let’s not cling onto poorly understood scientific phenomena to do so. Let’s talk about radical capitalism and the 40 hour work week. I spend 38+ hours a week online, programming, and generally living on a computer as do many contemporary workers. Talking about the brain won’t change that- but it will sell books. And I think it puts a clear perspective on the 3-4 hours a week I might spend playing games. The problem isn’t brains, games, or anything in between. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise wants to make a fast buck off you.

Susan is hoping to use her high-standing to kick off some kind of alarmist movement akin to the global warming debate. She’s even been so cheeky as to give her cause a similar sounding name “Mindchange”, so that her would be activists might have some nice banner around which to rally. Plus, it makes for some pretty obvious best-selling book titles. Maybe even a series of self-help audiobooks filled to the brim with half-truisms, folksy inspiration, and plenty of badly misunderstood science.

And that’s just the problem. Beneath the seemingly innocent wish to make a legacy and buck for herself, Susan has denigrated one big problem (global warming), disrespected the science, and mis-educated her audience. Not only that but I believe she’s obscuring the real problem. Call me radical, but if we don’t start to take serious the cultural-systemic problems that threaten our world, we’re fucked. By capitalizing on sensation, the Baroness has obscured a legitimate debate about the way we spend our lives.

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