Virginia Bianco-Mathis
University professor, author

Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Business department chair of management programs at Marymount University and author of two books on executive coaching.

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An adaptive mind

Q: We've got Blackberries. And iPhones and Droids and notebook computers and Google. They help make us more successful! Don't they?? The new book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" says the Internet impairs our ability to think long and hard. Do you agree? And if so, does the added productivity justify a little Internet-inspired attention-deficit disorder?

The Internet, Blackberries, iPhone, Droids, etc. do not impair our ability to think long and hard. We are adaptive learners and our brains, motivations, goals, and skill sets morph to keep up with changing technology and environmental shifts.

Just as we went from all fours to two legs, our minds are now creating new synapses to deal with bombarding information. This means assimilating what we need at higher speeds than ever before while at the same time developing new mechanisms to concentrate, think "long and hard," and mold our brains in new ways to do what is required to survive.

Might some people -- during the transition -- lose focus? Sure, just as some creatures on all fours were lost in the "two-leg" movement.

It is the human brain that is being used as the model for artificial intelligence and super computers. The worlds of technology and neuroscience have joined forces. Scientists are getting dual degrees in technology and biology in order to create computer programs that follow human brain patterns. It is because our minds are shifting that we can experiment and create the kind of prototypes that are emerging today -- results that were impossible to even fathom when there was merely "long and hard study."

Yes, we now have become accustomed to immediate resources, instant communication, and information that can be triangulated within minutes: quotes from three leading gurus, pictures of the topic in question, a bulleted slide show uploaded by some college professor, and two or three You Tube videos that support the idea in question. In addition, for comic relief, we can add some humorous commentary by Stewart or Colbert.

When my graduate students submit and present such reports, does this mean they are not capable of "long and hard" focused thinking? Not at all. What it means is that they are capable of a different kind of long and hard and that I have to change my measurement system and course criteria to meet that new reality.

However, imbedded in that reality is the fact that these same students still have to study for the midterm and final, discuss and analyze during two-hour debates, and ponder for several days on how to pull-together a mountain of resources that their parents never encountered.

What is emerging is mental flexibility. Multiple strengths. Cognitive gymnastics. Darwinism of the mind.

By Virginia Bianco-Mathis  |  July 21, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Technology and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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