April 1, 2023

Disruptions: Your Brain on E-Books and Smartphone Apps

Michael Appleton for The New York Times

Last week, my brain played a cruel trick on me. While waiting for my flight to take off, I was reading The New Yorker, the paper version, of course — I know the rules. I became engrossed in an article and swiped my finger down the glossy page to read more.

To my surprise, nothing happened. I swiped it again. Nothing.

My brain was trying to turn the page the same way I do on my iPad, with the swipe of a finger. (I quickly realized that I had to physically turn the page.)

A few days later, my brain played another technology-related trick. In New York City, I hopped in a cab and told the driver, “59th and 6th, please.” I didn’t think anything of it when we arrived at my destination and I said thanks and hopped out of the cab, without paying.

The cabby yelled at me bluntly, clearly not very happy: “These taxis aren’t free. Are you gonna pay me?”

I quickly apologized and paid him — with a good tip — when I realized that my brain thought I was in an Uber car, not a taxi.

In San Francisco, where I live, I often use a car service called Uber when I go out for the evening. You order a car from your smartphone, it arrives, you get in, tell your driver where to go, and then get out at your destination. There is no money exchanged; your credit card is automatically billed after the trip, and you are e-mailed a receipt.

But I did spend a few moments standing at the curb trying to figure out if I was suffering from some sort of mental fatigue.

I called the closest thing to a technology doctor I know: Clifford Nass, a professor of cognitive science and communications at Stanford University, and the author of “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships.”

“Brains love habits; brains are built for efficiency,” Mr. Nass said, noting that I wasn’t sick, maybe just a little too technological for my own good. “Our brains are built to put two things together in space and time and then say, ‘Great, I can remember that these go together.’ Then we execute on that, like you trying to scroll down a piece of paper with your finger.”

Although videos have been floating around the Web showing 1- and 2-year-olds trying to use a magazine like an iPad, you would think a 36-year-old man would know the difference. Gary Small, director of the Longevity Center this is its new name at the University of California, Los Angeles, has performed studies showing that the human brain adapts to technology in seven days, regardless of age.

I rarely read things on paper anymore. Magazines, news articles and books are all consumed on touch-screen devices like iPads, smartphones and Kindles. (The content is the same; the device is different.) Mr. Nass explained that my brain had been habituated to change the page by sliding my finger, no matter what I read. (This is also why I uselessly swipe ATM monitors or my laptop screen.) The same thing is happening with the taxi: my brain categorizes any car I am not driving as an Uber car.

All of these brain changes hasten the adoption rate for technologies, Mr. Nass said. It’s what happened with the telephone or the use of cruise control in cars. “You no longer drive a car,” he said. “You use a car.”

What is now happening with reading, we will soon experience with paying for things without cash, check or credit cards. And it will happen quickly.

The slowest part of the process may be convincing businesses to produce the changes. “This is where businesses have a difficult time adapting to what’s happening in society,” Mr. Nass said. It wasn’t publishers, for example, who introduced electronic reading devices. “People entered the publishing industry because they loved the feel and smell of books.”

But if they don’t recognize the speed of these changes, their brains are playing tricks on them, too.

Article source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/your-brain-on-e-books-and-smartphone-apps/?partner=rss&emc=rss