Monday, February 11, 2013

Pressing the Bar: How Technology Has Hijacked Our Brains

As an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1960s, I was fascinated by my visits to psychologist B.F. Skinner's laboratory...One of Skinner's seminal insights: The way to inspire the most persistent bar-pressing was to give the rats an intermittent reward...Fast-forward 50 years. Each day as I travel through downtown Tucson, I am amazed at how quickly the most ancient of human behaviors have changed. For as long as there have been Homo sapiens -- roughly 200,000 years -- people have filled their lives principally with two activities: talking directly -- with other people, and doing physical things. Both of these required -- and cultivated -- physical effort and an ability to defer reward, but they ultimately led to lives that people usually found fulfilling. Now, in coffee shops, at bus stops, sitting in parked cars, I find it increasingly common that people hardly speak to those in their immediate vicinity, and barely seem to move. Entire groups sit motionless, stare, and tap, tap, tap at their phones. more

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