Wednesday, July 13, 2011

iBrain Chapter 3

In Chapter 3, we get an explanation of how pleasurable activities cause the release of dopamine. Dopamine creates a sense of pleasure and well-being that the anterior cingulate, the part of our brain that controls decision making and reason, is challenged to subdue. For some, the desire for that sense of pleasure overwhelms our ability to think rationally or take charge of our lives. Dr. Small offers a rubric for detecting internet addiction disorder then goes on to describe how people become addicted to email, virtual gaming, online porn, gambling and online shopping.

The digital addiction pattern is no different than addictions we have long known about. Addictions are about avoiding some part of reality. The difference is that you can get more of it faster (email), access it easier (porn) and spend it quicker (gambling and online shopping) with an anonymity that makes detection and intervention less likely.

This chapter ends with the promise of more input to help you determine whether you suffer an addiction or perhaps just spend to much time on the internet.

I know from personal experience and observations of students that the allure of the internet, or the applications on the internet, can be difficult to overcome. I feel that one of our many jobs as teachers is to help develop the motivation that keeps students on task because, internet or not, we humans seem to find a way to distract ourselves from what we should be doing.

On the other hand, addiction is a strong word. I know people that are addicted to various things and I have not witnessed internet use that rises to that level. Perhaps I am naive, but I found this chapter to be somewhat alarmist.  In addition, I found the author's reference to newspaper articles and other non-peer reviewed sources less than convincing. This chapter is full of these references.

Here is one example from his notes:
In China, where an estimated two million youths are addicted to the Internet, a boot camp for Web addicts has successfully treated thousands. Chinese boot camps tackle Internet addiction. International Herald Tribune. March 12, 2007, 

My takeaway idea is this. I know this book is about balance. So how can we use the students' desire to avoid reality (that is the heart of addiction) to attract students to learning?


  1. Great point... gaming companies spend billions to create immersive worlds for the kids to play in. That is why we are using Reaction Grid to have students build virtual worlds. The students are into Mindcraft now but if you bring them to a 3d world like Reaction Grid you can give them a higher quality graphical world and they can create content. *not all virtual worlds are equal Second Life is not for kids for example. Also games do not have to be graphically sophisticated to work. Just look at how the fun scratch jeopardy was at end of STI. That same concept works with multiple content areas. When I was teaching Social Studies on Colonization I used a computer game (Conquest of the New World) that taught more about resources, diplomacy, exploration, and military tactics then I could using the standard forms of teaching. Lastly, I believe the authors do not understand that the learning from using technology can be just as intense as reading that good book. I have seen students use communication and group dynamics at a much higher level playing Call of Duty then any activity in my classroom. The authors have not seen how games have become more Social Activities rather then just static monitor type games. Wii / Kinetic style controllers, Guitar Hero, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft are all socially interactive games.

  2. The question of motivation is tricky for me. I only see the kids for a limited amount of time and it has been hard in my experience to be able to change their behaviors when they can just go back to 'normal' when they go home. I almost think that exposing them to as many alternatives is the key, rather than give in to the technology that they are already being exposed to on their own. Tricky stuff.

  3. Like Laura I've found difficulties when I have my students do research over the internet. More often than not when I think they are working as I sweep across the room they are actually off task.

    "Well Mr. Morrell this link sent me to this page and there was a really neat animation and then, well...I got distracted."

    I've had to on occasion set a list of links that they need to go to and do their research there. Although that can become time consuming and repetitive because they are all finding the same information while in free range mode they might have found something that I had missed.

    I also find that my students that play any sort of socially interactive games are damaging another aspect of their life. Whether that is school, family, social or emotional. I've seen students come in on a (pick a day of the week) exhausted to the point where they can't keep their heads off the desk. Why? "I was up all night killing zombies was intense." As I hand out a failing grade because they didn't do the assignment given...

  4. One of the things I like to do when using web browsing in the classroom is give the kids a specific task, and definitely NOT enough time to complete it. They get to work, and I'll call out a warning when they've only got a little time left. Then I let them "talk me into" giving them five more minutes, ten more minutes. It depends on the grade level of the kids, though. This tends to work better with seniors than with freshmen, and you can't do it too often or the jig is up!!

    I sort of feel like the authors are being a bit too liberal with their use of the word "addiction." They discuss internet accessibility at work as a cause of employee reprimand for viewing pornographic websites, but don't mention internet filters at all. (Is this before they were widely used?) I'd be interested in some statistics on employees/students using proxy servers or secure browsing to bypass internet filters because of a compulsion to do so. I think that might actually be more telling of addiction.

  5. @ Mrs. M
    Interesting idea, tracking bypasses (through what ever method.

  6. Before reading this chapter, I actually spent an hour on ebay hunting for a few items. Today I was looking for trail shoes and an organic comforter to keep me warm for the winter. No luck this time, but usually it takes a few attempts to find what I'm looking for. I am an expert on ebay and almost always win every auction I bid on. It took me years of practice and buying clothes that didn't fit or paying far more than what something was worth. But I now have a system down. Basically, I go try on new items at a retail store and then go searching for the exact item it that size. It sometimes takes a while, but I usually can end up finding it for 70% off. I am one of those bidders who comes in with 1 second to go before the auction ends. I have to admit, it does get my heart going during those few seconds before I see if I won. Am I an addict? Perhaps a little, sometimes I spend hours during a week on ebay. But today was the first time I signed in in months. I think it is more related to being slightly ADHD and getting fixated. I also can loose hours on silly things like planning a trip and looking for the best airfare or finding a restaurant.

    I do have one passion that is sustained by the internet, especially during an election year: politics. I check a whole slew of political blogs throughout the day. I would say that would make me an addict but I don't spend any time aside from scanning the headlines. I only occasionally read an article if there is something really interesting going on. I do stream c-span and political talk shows when I go to sleep and when I first wake up. It used to drive my wife crazy, but now I use headphones. This was because I used to be a bit of an insomniac, having a hard time quieting my mind down. But now, ten minutes of Rachel Maddow and I am sleeping like a baby. If it is anything too interesting, it keeps me up. My wife listens to episodes of This American Life. If I do that, I am up all night being captivated. Politics is great because nothing really happens aside from a lot of meaningless banter. Good luck staying awake listening to a replay of senate floor debate coverage.

    I think I could become an full on addict, if I had more money to spend. Luckily I am frugal and living off student loans. However, we are just on the verge of an exciting election year and I just changed my start up page to the Huffingtonpost. I think I need help.

  7. That is the only issue I see with this post you should be listening to some Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh. Ha Ha Ha....