Space Ramblings

Junk Science Meet Times

Video games cause murder and iPhones are as addictive as crack. Why bother doing science when you can just make a ridiculous claim that’s sensational and trendy enough to get you a Times page. No seriously.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, my team looked at subjects’ brain activity as they viewed consumer images involving brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson and religious images like rosary beads and a photo of the pope. We found that the brain activity was uncannily similar when viewing both types of imagery.

Because maybe they were all images. Not because people worship Harley-Davidson, but because they’re iconic images that people recognize.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life.

Or you know maybe because they’re babies and this is what babies do? If you give a baby something, it plays with it. Or maybe because Apple programmed the babies to do that.

Friends who have accidentally left home without their iPhones tell me they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. That sounds a lot like separation anxiety to me.

Or like what happens when you’re disconnected, missing phone messages, out of contact with clients, unable to get email, etc.

So are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive.

Or writing scientifically unsound articles to get your name featured in the New York Times

Earlier this year, I carried out an fMRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games.

Or cocaine based video games. Or D&D vodka. Don’t forget that.

But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

Because that’s how their girlfriends, boyfriends and family members contact them?

As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine. The man or woman we love most may be seated across from us in a romantic Paris bistro, but his or her 8GB, 16GB or 32GB rival lies in wait inside our pockets and purses.

My best advice? Shut off your iPhone, order some good Champagne and find love and compassion the old-fashioned way.

My best advice, phones are a communications device, stop pretending that they have some independent existence and do real science.

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