How Digital Technology Shapes Us

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Important course in these times Absolutely, as others have said, a great course, well tied to the current state of research. And, I like the new format. But, I would really like a new episode talking about what we have learned from the Covid crisis. We have, in a way, been conducting an unintended involuntary experiment in substituting screen time for personal contact at work, education, and social connection. I would love to hear what she think we have learned. In fact, as we come out of it, it will be vital to understand what we have learned.
Date published: 2020-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great course l just finished listening to this excellent course. I enjoyed it greatly. I learnt a good deal of psychology, sociology, neuroscience among other things along the way of learning about the effect of digital media on our lives and society. The professor has an impressive knowledge, and her style of lecturing is engaging and interesting. I recommend this course highly and would give it five stars.
Date published: 2020-11-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ugly slight of Hand representing data. The anti-multitasking bias is an ugly thing and she used some fallacy to try and push it. An entire concept is not discredited because one side performs better than the other.
Date published: 2020-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging professor Great course. The content was interesting and relevant and the professor was extremely engaging. She helped make it even more interesting and captured my attention throughout. I highly recommend this class.
Date published: 2020-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from amazing information I was so interested in this course. It made me think more about how technology affects me. although I don't interact with technology as much as other people, this course showed me how the little technology I interact with is changing me in profound ways.
Date published: 2020-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another TGC+ Excellent Course! This being my third course being presented by Indre I was really looking forward to it as she had advised me some months ago that ut was being released this fall. I really don't want to be redundant - so the review written by wthmd echos my thoughts exactly from the content perspective! There was no way to state my feelings without basically doing a cut and paste of their content. Please don't construe this as a cop out - I just couldn't have stated it any better. Two more items: 1. The dynamic background it the background that was quite severally objected to by another reviewer did not affect me whatsoever. 2. The more disturbing aspect was the new presentation paradigm being adopted by TGC. I was told that the interview format used was supposed to be more intimate and engaging. Maybe it's a generational thing (being a septuagenarian) but I really liked and enjoyed the professor standing similar to being in front of "the classroom" and the camera moving in and out while the instructor is always making eye contact with the camera and in essence me. Also, as all instructors use hand movements and other body language as part of their presentation style I feel as though something is missing with just an upper torso or head shot. No instructor I ever had (in school or my professional career) ever used an "interview" style. It certainly doesn't work in a real classroom environment or instructing remotely (over satellite) as I did as part of my stint in corporate education. I am wondering if I am a lone "student" that finds this somewhat irritating...
Date published: 2020-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The digital revolution and its implications Dr. Viskontas was engaging, clear, up to date, and relevant. She synthesized aspects of brain science, computer science, psychology, ethics, evolution, art, and economics to give me much needed information and insight into how my world, my society, and my own behavior is being affected profoundly by advances in digital technology.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Vital Info - But delivered too quickly This is an important and well informed course. My only wish is that Professor Viskontas would slow down from time to time and let us digest her presentation.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great content, most distracting background ever 5 stars on the content. 1 star on the presentation. I really wanted to love this course. The content is great. However, the moving blue circuit board with moving circuit paths in the backround, right behind the instructor's head, was incredibly distracting. I want to pay attention to the instructor, but it was very difficult because of the blue thing. I hope the Great Courses never uses a constantly moving thing on their set again because it completely detracts from the content.
Date published: 2020-09-16
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How Digital Technology Shapes Us
Course Trailer
How Experience Alters the Brain
1: 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?
2: 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?
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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?
9: 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
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, Los Angeles


University of California, San Francisco

About Indre Viskontas

Dr. Indre Viskontas is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco and Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training. Professor Viskontas received her Bachelor of Science degree with a Specialist in Psychology and a minor in French Literature at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. She also holds a Masters of Music degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She completed her PhD in cognitive neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she studied the neural basis of memory and reasoning. Her post-doctoral work at the University of California, San Francisco explored the paradoxical facilitation of creativity in patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

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