Cartoon by Wilcox - Sydney morning Herald 15th September 2012
This is a long post, so bear with me.
Last week we got a new 42 inch SmartTV – a beauty. It’s a computer in its own right and it connects directly to our PC and our mobile phones. It has its own external hard drive to record and store movies for playback on demand. So far I’ve just managed to learn how to turn it on, turn it off, alter the volume level, change channels and change TV media types (Digital to Pay TV and back again,)
When my daughter’s partner drove down from Sydney to install and set it up he said that this was the last TV we will require for the rest of our lives – to spend any more money would be money wasted for little gain and he had assisted other couples to install $8,000 “Entertainment Centres” with $5,000 TVs when all they really needed was a TV like ours for under $1,000.
So – Why do we do it?
In offices, living rooms, cafes, cars and trains everywhere, smart technologies are proving us dumb. People are pressing when they should be tapping and swiping when they should be waving. They are uselessly pinching laptop screens to make the writing bigger, jabbing at stubborn desktop monitors with TV remotes, even trying to change TV channels with a mouse. Even with my Kindle I am probably not using 50% of its electronic potential - in fact the most common function, other than "search" is to enlarge the typeface font so I can read it with my aged eyesight in poor light conditions.
The cycle of anticipation, followed by annoyance then embarrassment at using the wrong gesture or movement occurs when the brain prematurely transfers a task from the frontal lobe (where it is learnt) to the more primitive basal ganglia, which handles "automatic" actions.
As the tide of digital devices gathers pace, so does the potential for disconnect between hand, eye and machine. Apart from Apple's new iPhone, new smartphones or tablet devices are imminent or just launched from Nokia, Motorola, Sony and Amazon, among others.
I guess the problem now, with all these devices, is there are just so many different types. It does put a big load on us, especially ''unnatural movements'' which, because the physical movement is disconnected from its effect, are a cognitive step beyond ''natural'' gestures like picking up a stick.
(From: Devices weave our brains into a twist - Catherine Armitage, Sydney Morning Herald)
Many organisms, especially humans, are characterized by their capacity for intentional, goal-directed actions. However, similar behaviours often proceed automatically, as habitual responses to antecedent stimuli. How are goal-directed actions transformed into habitual responses? Recent work combining modern behavioural assays and neurobiological analysis of the basal ganglia has begun to yield insights into the neural basis of habit formation.
When you flip on a light switch, your behaviour could be a result of the desire for a state of illumination coupled with the belief that a certain movement will lead to it.
Sometimes, however, you just turn on the light habitually, without anticipating the consequences — the very context of having arrived home in a dark room automatically triggers your reaching for the light switch. Although to the observer these two cases might appear to be similar, they differ in the extent to which they are controlled by outcome expectancy. When the light switch is known to be broken, the habit might still persist whereas the goal-directed action might not.
Intuitively, then, goal-directed actions are controlled by their consequences, habits by antecedent stimuli.
The basal ganglia (or basal nuclei) act as a cohesive functional unit. They are situated at the base of the forebrain and are strongly connected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus and other brain areas. The basal ganglia are associated with a variety of functions, including voluntary motor control, procedural learning relating to routine behaviors or "habits" such as bruxism, eye movements, and cognitive, emotional functions. Currently popular theories implicate the basal ganglia primarily in action selection, that is, the decision of which of several possible behaviors to execute at a given time. Experimental studies show that the basal ganglia exert an inhibitory influence on a number of motor systems, and that a release of this inhibition permits a motor system to become active. The "behavior switching" that takes place within the basal ganglia is influenced by signals from many parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which plays a key role in executive functions.
So, first we ‘practice’ the moves and learn them like ‘rote learning’ until we reach a point that our pre-frontal cortex assesses that we have gained competency. Those movements are then switched into and stored in the basal ganglia at the base of the forebrain where our skills are honed and developed.
Problem is, as we mature and with the onset of advanced ageing, the frontal cortex and associated areas of ‘higher learning’ are amongst the first to deteriorate and are associated with brain conditions known as hyperkinetic disorders – tremors, tics, dystonia, chorea, ataxia – which when present, even in their mildest age-related form, make learning new motor skills extremely difficult, if not impossible,
What do we do in this age of rapidly expanding modern, tactile, technology? My advice is to not try to compete for the sake of competing. So keep getting your grandkids to re-set the DVD player, to tune your television or do not become frustrated when they bewilder you with their rapid hand, eye and finger movements as they text the St James bible to a friend across town in a matter of seconds. Pick electronic devices that are suited to your skill levels and meet your needs. Don’t give yourself a technological uppercut – apply the K.I.S.S. principle - Keep It Simple Silly!