10 takeaways from “Mind Change”

Happy Easter y’all!

Lately, I’ve been quite interested in a couple of topics related to technology. Partially because of some kind of research for some personal projects, but also because I feel some kind of struggle somewhere.

On one side, I want to learn more, be more proficient at using technologies to my advantage, building audiences not necessarily to my blog, but to this project about collecting stamps (Stamps.Gallery), but at the same time there is an ongoing battle with the other self who wants to be further away from the screen, from the smartphone, from the internet, who wants to run more, see more, and be more offline. Quite a paradox that we would live more by being offline, rather than online.

Somehow, this is the context that drove my decision in reading Susan’s Greenfield book “Mind Change”. I’m not the kind of reader who consumes a book in a single go, even though the way the information is structured and presented, makes it a light read, in a good way.

My plan is to be quite concise, excuse the long intro but this is the first wannabe review I’m making, so I’ll keep it short and just mention my 10 takeaways from this awesome book.

  1. “…absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

“…it is impossible to demonstrate definitively that screen-based activities have no effect at all on the brain or behaviour, any more than I or anyone could prove definitively, to use an age-old example, that there is not a teapot in orbit around Mars.”

Sooner or later we probably will find out if there is a teapot or not around or on Mars. Fingers crossed it will be during this lifetime, but I like a lot the phrase “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, and I plan to use it as often as I can when I am discussing in contradictory.

Also, it did remind me about the thinking of Nicholas Nassim Thaleb in his books, where he tends to question many things. On this topic, you should definitely read, at least, Fooled by Randomness, I bet that after reading that you’ll want to have a look at all of his works.

2. Know when to go all-in on an idea, even if it can be nasty, but it may worth it in the long run.

‘Everyone was against me’, Marshall recalls. For many years, good old unscientific prejudice delayed significantly the final acceptance of Marshall and Warren’s theory. Starved of funding, but convinced of the merits of their theory, Marshall actually drank a glass of the medium containing the bacteria and duly gave himself an ulcer, which was cured by antibiotics. Vindicated at last, he and Warren won the Nobel prize.

On my copy of the book, I noted ‘WTF’ next to this paragraph. I really enjoy putting signs and notes, since it’s easier for me to track down the important things, the ‘triggers’ which I loved in a book.

Barry Marshall’s story about how he acted against all the other scientists who got stuck in their mindsets and didn’t take his theory seriously is awesome. He believed in his theory so much that he risked, got himself sick with an ulcer, just to prove a point, and later he cured it and, together with Robin Warren, won a Nobel prize.

The story itself is inspiring, but the context where it’s used is even more important since there is a lot of contradictory information going back and forth regarding the main topic of the book, making the parallel between the Marshall’s findings and Susan’s research spot on.

3. ‘Anything that changes your brain, changes who you will be’ (Bryan Kolb)

‘Your brain is not just produced by your genes; it’s sculpted by a lifetime of experiences. Experience alters brain activity, which changes gene expression. Any behavioural changes you see reflect alterations in the brain. The opposite is also true, behaviour can change the brain’ (Bryan Kolb)

Encouraging fact. If you look at the full half of the glass of course. I think this should actually be taught and reminded every now and then in schools. Besides the people who are just struck by success, or luck, the people who get real results by working hard on their goals, are those who prove the point of this phrase. And there are a bunch of things that work like that. It’s the same with nutrition, right? ‘You are what you eat!’ they say. Well, now we should all have more depth and say ‘You are what you think!’. ‘You are today, what you thought yesterday!’ No wonders mostly of those who live by the standard ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ really end up succeeding.

4. ‘A change is as good as a rest’… more or less

Well, this is not from the book, but what is mentioned is that

learning of a new task is pivotal in changing the structure of the brain rather than ongoing rehearsal of something already learned

So, whenever you feel like you are stuck. Creatively, professionally, or whatever, making some changes would help you. And, the best part is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a change in what you are learning, but even how, or where, as it is later described in the same chapter, where the concept ‘environmental enrichment’ is described.

While changing the scenery, learning a new skill, or both can actually improve more than a specific skill, trying to keep up with fast changes, like switching back and forth between all your social media channels on your phone, reading emails, and listening to a youtube video, etc. can drastically narrow our attention span, as it is described in a different chapter in the same book.

5. Cognitive behavioural therapy > drug intervention

I don’t have too many depressive friends, but for all of them here is an excerpt I selected just for you.

A big difference between cognitive behavioural therapy and direct drug intervention is that the probability of relapse in depression is greater with drugs. Presumably the plasticity changes in personalised neuronal networking shaped by routine cognitive behaviourl therapy are more enduring and powerful than a general but essentially transient change in the chemical brain landscape, where drugs are directly manipulating simply the individual’s feelings and conscious state over a much shorter time window.


…the mind-set of the clinic depressive can have a negative effect on neurogenesis: the brain region from where new neurons are created from stem cells shrinks in depression…this physical change in the brain might account for why depressed patients are not so receptive to new things, why they persist in seeing the world in an unchanging, unexciting monochrome way.

So try to cheer up guys. Fake it ’til you make it. Try to smile, the brain will follow, do from that a routine, and the brain will change and be more positive.

Hmmm….by now I realise that I wrote down 5 takeaways, and I am not even close to half of the book. Even though it’s not the first ‘brain-related’ book I read, I thought all of the above were worthy to be mentioned. It’s not like my plan was to summarise the book in 10 big ideas but to give you a hint on what kind of book it is, and why I chose this as the subject for my first wanna be book review. So many interesting things in this book.

Now I will continue, but in a more concise way, since I don’t want to end up rewriting the whole thing.

6. ‘Adults behave like babies too.

While secure people feel comfortable with intimacy, avoidant individuals struggle to establish emotional connections. They are more likely to be socially isolated and to attempt to shut down their emotional needs in relation to others. In contrast, anxious attachment individuals are anxious about being alone; they fear rejection and will engage in behaviours to strengthen their relationships.’

7. A possible cause why social media is such a big hit nowadays

The opportunity to avoid the awkwardness of hesitating and stumbling over your words seems wonderful, especially as you won’t have a chance to say anything you don’t mean or might regret. You are secure and invulnerable as you derive tactile pleasure from tapping the keys, and see the writing on the screen dance to your precise command and control. Another part of the excitement of being online comes from being constantly connected. Someone somewhere is always available to interact with you right now; after all, you are globally wired. But, at the same time, you can say anything you like without the embarrassment or discomfort of a face-to-face interaction. No wonder such an experience makes you feel good.

How does that sound to you? Sounds about right, doesn’t it? But keep in mind, that on a ‘use it or lose it’ principle (described in Mind Change) more time being spent online means you’ll be worse at being offline.

8. There’s a chance that we all suffer from a weird form of schizophrenia. 

…social networking has now resulted in three possible selves: the true self, expressed in anonymous environments withouth the constraints of social pressures; the real self, the conformed individual who is restricted by social norms in face-to-face interactions; and, for the first time, the hoped-for, possible self displayed on social networking sites

9. More is less

Firstly – more friends = less well-being.

A long-term study of the relation between adolescent boys’ and girls’ computer use and thier friends and quality of friendship reveals that using the Internet to make new friends is now linked to lower levels of well-being.

Secondly, as a result of another study…

Loneliness was experienced in proportion to the amount of content that they consumed

10. If schizophrenia doesn’t make you more concern about the amount of time you are online and how you spend it, then autism might do the trick.

Whether or not screen technologies could ever increase the possibility of autistic-like behaviours, it is well accepted that the reers holds true, and autistic people are most comfortable in cyberspace.

And I’ll end here my 10 takeaways from Susan Greenfield’s awesome book ‘Mind Change – How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains’.

It’s been an awesome lecture and just reviewing this post it seems that I focused on the negative aspects of the digital technologies, and I didn’t even scratch the surface of it. Susan’s position is well balanced, brings to the table both the pros and the cons of using technologies, and information from both camps. Whole chapters which I didn’t mention are about video gaming, cyberbullying, and about learning by using digital technologies.

I structured the takeaways like this, 50-50, because I enjoyed so much the ‘warm-up’ description of the brain and how it works, because my main concern is the probability of using too much the social channels and that I am consuming too much content resulting in attention span narrowing and damaging how I interact with other people.

It’s quite sad when you are in a room with people, and every single one of them is using the phone, even if it is to find something cool to show to the rest of the audience. Hopefully, we will do something about it for the future to come.

Thank you for reading!


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