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How Digital Technology Shapes Us

Explore our relationship with AI, robots, computing technology, video games, and much more as you examine the technologies that are rapidly transforming life in the 21st century.
How Digital Technology Shapes Us is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 21.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from How Digital Technology Shapes Us Given that digital technology has a great influence in our everyday lives it behooves each citizen to be aware of the effects both positive and negative that the various digital world products have on us. The course was well researched and clearly presented, covering the very broad range of issues of interest. I feel that the course addressed the topic very well.
Date published: 2022-03-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Cognitive Digital Dissonance at the Opera I found this offering to be comically suspicious, with some truth, half- truth, untruths, and examples uniformly skewed. The instructor is well- spoken and has great presentation style, but everything is biased way left, and technics glossed or misunderstood. The explanation of tech "buzzwords" reminds of Mozart, who was mostly comedic style opera. PRO's * Instructor is well- spoken and has great presentation style. It is a credit that she is most interested in singing opera as an avocation. Her vocation is less singular or clear, and includes Assistant Prof Psychology and Prof Music; and paid speaking to selectively receptive audiences. Her "digital" background is unavailable. * Maybe some truth. She gives confirmation that Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, are currently counterproductive social tools that depress, anger, and alienate users. Maybe. Also, she confirms that Facebook view time correlates with lower grades. Again, maybe. I had trouble correlating the non-specific self-serving Bibliography with the "facts". References are not given in the Resource guide. THE BAD and UGLY's * The instructor is politically strongly biased left. She talks about political division, and she is correct and contributes. Her section on conservative and liberal brain function are comical, and pseudo science. (See the review by Gharmjo, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", for details. Note the solid references there.) * She discusses tech things like "Blockchain", but her discussion is not about concurrent algorithmic procedural methods for eliminating humans from interfering with data. She says that Blockchain relies on "social consensus, … and human nature". Wow! * She will "identify individuals who are more comfortable with change … as liberals and those preferring stability … as conservatives", with no mention whatever of correlation with socialism, free enterprise, and other actual issues that may reverse her definition. * She describes a former disgraced director Joichi Ito as a founder of the MIT Media Lab. Oops, untruth! Actual Lab founding fathers like Negroponte and Wiesner should be notified to rehire him? Maybe, maybe not; wicked dilemma here, look him up. Ito was both Harvard Business and MIT Media Lab, and may be a great example of how the good idea of adding entrepreneurial skill to great tech effort can become incredibly distorted when politics become involved. * I agree with other reviewers that this offering is mostly empty calories, no memorable "learning" involved. COMMENTARY * The cognitive enhancement possible in a "technocentric" age was discussed by Seymour Papert in "Mindstorms" and "The Connected Family", and with the "Logo" (now "Scratch") project. Despite being dated, review of Papert's great works, and play with "Scratch", is better time spent on "How Digital Technology Shapes Us". Alternately, "A Night at the Opera" with the Marx Brothers may also help. SUMMARY The instructor's strength is probably singing opera; good for her. Tech and STEM types, which includes me, will find this presentation to be mostly comedic. Taken in that vein, its a total hoot! Overall, this is just way too far over the political left edge, and annoyingly so, without memorable content. Please, don't pay for this course, just stream it as part of a TGC+ or Wondrium package if you're curious; otherwise, you'll pay for the return postage. A well- received reviewer, Gharmjo, calls this "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". I strongly encourage reading that excellent review. I must agree that TGC and Wondrium should surely do better than this.
Date published: 2021-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another TGC+ Success There is a lot to learn and think about in this course. I am certainly better off and more prepared for the future.
Date published: 2021-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Content I think I own over half the teaching company inventory, and of the courses I've listened to I'd say this is one of the best. The course touches on many of the most important aspects of our lives: health, relationships, finance, cognitive ability, and talks clearly about technology's effect on each of them in real life. Professor Viskontas is also self aware during the lectures and presents in a way that is politically neutral and easy to understand, things that I appreciate as a listener. If that sounds appealing to you, I'd say buy it.
Date published: 2021-04-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Wrong audience I will start with an example that is both vivid – easily remembered – and extraordinary – not clearly true. The professor states that she became absorbed into the works of Marcel Proust as a teenager. She then claims that she would not have become so involved if she had read the books on a kindle. She provides a name for the syndrome, about 8 syllables and immediately forgotten, and explains how different parts of the brain are stimulated and different paths created. In short, reading a book provides deep reading while a kindle does not. Generalize this example to every function one performs on a digital device. The English language has been enriched by a large number of 8-syllable words, but little is known about the effects of the digital evolution on behavior. Consider two opposing questions: 1. Will I be able to make a smarter decision when buying a car? 2. Will I lose my ability to use an encyclopedia? In other words, are we gaining more than we lose? I managed to listen to only 8 of the 24 lectures before realizing that I was not remembering the content nor gaining the insight I wanted.
Date published: 2021-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SIX Stars-OUTSTANDING!!! Professor Indre Viskontas is a presenter who can read the teleprompter without seeming to do so. Her delivery is clear and strong as if she is talking directly to you. She does her presentation while being seated, a perfect setup for her. Second, I initially thought this course was about Facebook, Twitter, and such. No, it is about the neuroscience of using our brain with, and without, digital technology. The findings are mind-blowing, mainly because the information is new. Both positive and negative results are shared. The course kept my interest and got better the deeper it went. I strongly recommend this class for a change in pace and for learning something new.
Date published: 2021-01-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly Viskontas’ cross-specialty research allows associational meanderings on technology that are sometimes brilliantly counterintuitive and occasionally contradictory. Her speaking style is closest to TGC’s excellent Liulevicius. THE GOOD: L1 prepares us for her “stream of consciousness” turns as it ranges from gut bacteria that can alter intestinal gene expression to Hebb’s theory of neural networks to James’ "My experience is what I agreed to attend to". L2: Her focus is pre-frontal cortex developing goal-directed attention in teenagers as website strategies “designed to keep us scrolling” interfere with developing deep thought. This remonstrance continues through L7 as a new theme on brain function/mechanisms vs computer algorithmic modeling is gradually woven in. By lecture 8, she notes: "…people’s schemas and scripts can be shaped by the media, such that they deem the world a hostile…place" - a theme I return to under POLITICS below. L10 starts the meat of the course: how Big Data manipulates and changes perceptions. In L12, she cautions the perils of Big Data as with the 2013 Google Flu Trends errors. L13-16 highlights human foibles in wedding ourselves to the Internet, especially the dangers of overload. L19 is a brilliant counterproposal to AI fears, using AI as the builder and the artist as the creator. L21 Understanding blockchain is extremely important & her explanation is excellent. L22: For myself, the course high point was her research into “the Brad Pitt” cell. It led her to conclude not only that CNS (brain) memory allocation is highly de-localized, and builds on her view that human memory and thought has a vastly different purpose than computer memory and AI. THE BAD: The course ends with the Tegmark’s views on consciousness as justification to question free will. Acc. to Tegmark, a conscious system requires three qualities including: “The parts of the system need to be integrated; otherwise it’s a series of separate conscious entities.” Yet, just moments before introducing Tegmark, Viskontas admitted that post corpus callostomy for uncontrolled seizures (surgical hemisphere separation), patients were in fact conscious beings without split consciousness. Negating this Tegmark quality requirement nullifies using his arguments. So why conclude with it? THE UGLY = POLITICS: L17 reminds one of 1810 skull phrenology. Without any detail or even mentioning the source (perhaps Kanai?) she states that conservatives have a larger right amygdala and then speculates that they “…would be more likely to be swayed by the emotional aspects of content…" She further speculates that such persons become conservatives because “…stability leads to greater predictability and therefore less anxiety.” Unfortunately, she contradicts herself in L22: “If your amygdala lights up when you see an ad for a political party…it doesn’t mean you’re afraid”, thus scuttling the inherent Genetic Logical Fallacy of her anxiety argument. My conservative father’s rule was “Think before you act”, an admonition based on wisdom not anxiety. If he was correct, one could change the “anxious” barb to “circumspect”, an adjective reflecting the eventual wisdom seen in the aging maturation of all. In fact, Viskontas apparently agrees, because in L5 she defined conservatives as persons who require thought before change. Unfortunately, L5 also swerved into alt-Right fringe racist talking heads leading to another logical fallacy (Hasty Generalization) by implying these talking heads somehow represent conservative thought. Finally, L24 is astounding with its Ad Hominem Fallacy: Here she dwells on a (confirmation bias) TWITTER study showing that in 2016, conservatives re-tweeted Russian trolls 30x as often as liberals. Faced with a biased media, people did grasp. So what? Ad hominem arguments are character assassinations (ie: “uneducated people believe that”, “that book was written by a left-winger”), though the idea may still be true. SUMMARY: According to Gallup’s 2019 data, 37% describe themselves as conservative, 24% as liberal, the rest between. TGC’s vital educational media service does not need inflammatory political speculation at a time when the Southern Poverty Law Center and Elon Musk are speaking up against biased media control and the country is trying to recover. Perhaps we should all listen to L5 of TGC's "36 Revolutionary Figures of History” where Artaxerxes II gave the equivalent of presidential pardon to his ENEMIES after brother Cyrus' failed rebellion. He became the longest-ruling king of the Persian Empire. I returned the course.
Date published: 2021-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a talented lecturer! I am enjoying the course material AND I am also enjoying the presenter. She is fantastic! Would love to hear her sing too!
Date published: 2021-01-04
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Many of us are concerned about the amount of technology in our lives these days and whether or not we are spending way too much time on screens. In How Digital Technology Shapes Us, Professor Indre Viskontas provides a scientific approach to judging the true pros and cons of our interaction with technology in the digital age. With this information, we can focus on the positives of digital media, empowering us to connect with others to find purpose, motivation, and support. Digital technology definitely shapes us. But once we learn how it does so, we can make good decisions for our ourselves and our children.


Indre Viskontas

The beauty of science is that with each question that is answered, many more questions are raised; each discovery helps us develop more refined queries about the world around us.


University of California, San Francisco

Indre Viskontas is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco, where she runs the Creative Brain Lab. She earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published more than 50 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity. A passionate science communicator, she has appeared on major TV and radio programs and hosts the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds as well as the podcast Cadence: What Music Tells Us about the Mind.

By This Professor

12 Essential Scientific Concepts
How Digital Technology Shapes Us
Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience
Creativity and Your Brain
How Digital Technology Shapes Us


How Experience Alters the Brain

01: How Experience Alters the Brain

It is the adaptable nature of the human brain that has allowed us to become who we are today and dictates who we will become in the future. Learn how our lived experience changes our brain wiring as well as the relative sizes of different brain regions. Each of these changes is susceptible to alterations resulting from our use of technology.

25 min
Are New Media Shortening Attention Spans?

02: Are New Media Shortening Attention Spans?

Teachers claim that students’ attention spans have drastically changed because technology is eroding their ability to focus. But what about adults? Explore the impact of technology on our own ability to perform “deep work” and whether or not multitasking is even a neurological possibility.

27 min
Does the Internet Make Us Shallow Thinkers?

03: Does the Internet Make Us Shallow Thinkers?

While our brain circuitry evolved to support speech, reading is not an innate, passively acquired skill. Instead, the connections in our brains are shaped and reinforced as we learn to read. Compare the neurological difference between reading on the internet and reading a physical book—and understand why we need to ensure that the next generations acquire the skill of “deep reading.”

27 min
Outsourcing Our Memory

04: Outsourcing Our Memory

Has our ability to remember details declined as more and more information becomes instantly available on the internet? After all, why bother memorizing a fact you can so easily look up? Explore the positives and negatives of the internet with respect to memory creation, and learn how the latest technology might help us expand our memories to take full advantage of our human potential.

28 min
Human versus Digital Content Curators

05: Human versus Digital Content Curators

Recommendations, whether from a real person or an algorithm, have an enormous influence on our behaviors. Consider how much of your digital content—e.g., social media, books, movies, political ads—is determined by an algorithm that might or might not have goals aligned with your own. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of these algorithms will help you make more informed choices.

28 min
Virtual Realities and Our Sense of Self

06: Virtual Realities and Our Sense of Self

Given that our experiences affect not only how are brains are activated but also their structural anatomy, explore the many ways in which virtual reality can affect us. Learn why leaders of VR research are calling for a code of ethics, and why VR could also be a place where human imagination could thrive, leading to new ideas and inventions.

28 min
Screen Time’s Impact on Kids

07: Screen Time’s Impact on Kids

Does increased screen time enrich or impoverish children’s environments and how are their emotions influenced by digital media? You might be surprised to learn that “it depends”—just like almost every other aspect of parenting. Explore the many factors scientists are studying to help answer these crucial questions.

29 min
Video Games and Violence

08: Video Games and Violence

We might easily assume that those who play violent games would be more likely to perpetrate violent acts than non-players—but the scientific research is less conclusive. Dig into the fascinating studies that have been addressing this issue for decades and learn how playing violent video games factors into overall cognitive development and perceptions of the world.

28 min
Is Digital Technology Ruining Sleep?

09: Is Digital Technology Ruining Sleep?

Although studies show we are not sleeping fewer hours than before the days of technology on the nightstand, the quality of our sleep has likely been affected—especially for young people. Better understand the lifesaving functions your brain performs while you sleep and how technology, used the right way, just might help you sleep better, allowing your cognitive functions to be stronger the next day.

27 min
How “Dr. Google” Is Changing Medicine

10: How “Dr. Google” Is Changing Medicine

Have you ever used a search engine for medical advice? If so, you’re certainly not alone. But how often does that search result in more harm than help? Consider the many ways in which technology has impacted the practice of medicine and the doctor-patient relationship, and the moral dilemmas that have resulted.

23 min
The Virtual Therapist

11: The Virtual Therapist

Is on-screen talk therapy as effective as in-person therapy? Studies show it is. And in some respects—with the addition of virtual reality, for example—it can be more helpful than in-person talk therapy alone. Explore the many ways in which technology can help both mental-health patients and researchers, as well as the associated risks.

28 min
How Big Data Can Predict the Future

12: How Big Data Can Predict the Future

Learn how big data is changing scientific research and deepening our view of ourselves and the world around us. But does the ability to process previously unimaginable amounts of data and jump from one finding to the next really help us understand the relationships between variables? What risks might we be taking without realizing it?

26 min
Is Privacy Dead in the Information Age?

13: Is Privacy Dead in the Information Age?

Examine the privacy paradox, our increasingly lax attitude toward our own privacy and its many implications for our future. How often do you unwittingly sell your privacy for a store discount, a few more social media “likes,” or the convenience of choosing specific amenities at a vacation spot? Learn about the complex relationship between privacy and trust in the digital age.

25 min
The Emotional Effects of Social Media

14: The Emotional Effects of Social Media

Studies have shown that the use of Facebook (more than 1 billion users worldwide) often results in increased feelings of sadness, jealousy, and envy. Explore the neurological basis of our social interactions—where we focus our attention and why, how we make choices, and what is required for humans to maintain stable relationships. How do those factors interact with our social media usage?

24 min
How Online Dating Transforms Relationships

15: How Online Dating Transforms Relationships

Examine the potential differences between relationships that begin through online dating services versus those that begin more traditionally. Discover which neurological processes we use in making our choices—whether a new car, new house, or a mate. How can we make sure we assess potential mates with careful deliberation if we use an online service?

25 min
Technology and Addiction

16: Technology and Addiction

Substance addiction leaves traceable changes in the brain, from the structure of brain cells and regions to their connections. Learn how technology can “supercharge” experiences to affect us neurologically and biologically overall, particularly with respect to one of our strongest motivational drives: sex.

28 min
Is the Internet Hurting Democracy?

17: Is the Internet Hurting Democracy?

It is well established that the internet and other technologies can shape our political behavior and give one candidate an advantage over another. But what are the mechanisms by which we make our political decisions? You might be surprised to learn that differences between different political alignments can be seen in our brains.

28 min
The Arts in the Digital Era

18: The Arts in the Digital Era

In the digital age, who decides which art is of the best quality? Or rather, who builds the algorithms that decide? In a time of almost infinite choices, is there greater or lesser opportunity for unknown artists to put their work out there? And how has technology affected the artist’s ability to learn deliberatively and experiment with all options?

27 min
How AI Can Enhance Creativity

19: How AI Can Enhance Creativity

Can artificial intelligence (AI) help us realize our fullest creative potential in the future, or will it become a hinderance we nevertheless can’t live without? Learn about the many ways in which AI might help us become more creative than ever before. How could we harness the strength of machines to enhance our creativity, a trait we often consider one of our most revered human characteristics?

27 min
Do We Trust Algorithms over Humans?

20: Do We Trust Algorithms over Humans?

No one deliberately taught you how to speak. After hearing and processing millions of words over many months—and with a brain that is wired for speech—you started talking. Dive into the world of machine learning to discover whether or not machines can teach themselves, the way we do, and what the implications might be both for machines and for ourselves.

27 min
Could Blockchain Revolutionize Society?

21: Could Blockchain Revolutionize Society?

Learn what makes blockchain a social technology and why some researchers say it could be a force for good, bringing together disparate elements in a framework of trust. Could blockchain represent a giant leap forward in allowing us to be more confident in online transactions and lessen constant concerns about hacking? Explore the potential of this technology to take us both back to basics and into the future.

22 min
Effects of Technological Metaphors on Science

22: Effects of Technological Metaphors on Science

The metaphors we use when talking about the brain can limit our ability to think “outside the box” and perceive the real workings of the brain in all its complexity. Consider the many ways in which the computer metaphor, although popular, is a poor match for the human brain, and what scientists might miss by continuing to use it.

28 min
Robots and the Future of Work

23: Robots and the Future of Work

What skills for success will the next generation need in a society with automation and robots as commonplace in the home as in the factory? Should everyone learn coding to prepare for work? Discover why many scientists discourage that outlook and why they believe an age of robots might help us learn more about ourselves than ever before.

26 min
Redefining What It Means to Be Human

24: Redefining What It Means to Be Human

A society with increased AI and robotics is not necessarily a dystopian environment with increased human isolation and decreased human activity. Explore our current definitions of human life and death to better understand where we are now and where we might be headed.

32 min