What Are Computers Doing to Our Brains?

Adrianne Jeffries

Adrianne Jeffries

The ultimate technophile versus technophobe question.

Image: Eran Fowler

Hello, Motherboard reader. You are (almost certainly) reading this on a computer. It may be a laptop; it may be a desktop. It may be a hand computer that occasionally makes phone calls. You've already conceded that you engage with the internet, and most of the time—at least, until we all have space-generation FitBits hardwired into our nervous systems—that means engaging with the internet with your brain.

As more of the workforce moves toward screen-based labor, many of our brains are engaging with the human-readable internet for more than eight hours a day. Outside that window, our brains continue to engage with digital machines almost nonstop. You manipulate a computer to buy a subway ticket. You tap in your order at Wawa. You check yourself out at CVS. You watch TV.

What is all this doing to our brains? It's a question that either excites optimism or induces fear, depending on where you fall on the technophilia spectrum. Does learning a computer language stave off Alzheimer's? Did you know there are people with brain implants, and what happens when those brain implants get hacked? In what ways have computers warped our mating rituals?

We're calling this theme week Jacked In, and it's about exploring the consequences of living in a digital world. It gets weirder, too: How does the brain handle the addition of a sixth sense through biohacking? Do we want our computers to lie to us?

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

We'll also dig into some of the latest research on how the human brain works, which is still alarmingly murky. Where is the soul? How easy is it to implant a false memory? Why is optogenetics—manipulating genes so that animal brains can be controlled with light—so hot right now?

Up ahead: Aziz Ansari. Ice pick lobotomies. How web design changes the way we think. Neurons and virtual reality. A video demonstrating DIY shock therapy (please, do not DIY). And a special Motherboard podcast about computer-assisted love. It's all happening right here on the other end of your internet connection.

Thank you for interfacing,


Jacked In is a series about brains and technology. Follow along here.