Thinking about the Baroness Greenfield interview, and responses to warnings that computers are affecting our brains, I wonder if we're talking about "brains" when we should be talking about "minds."
By that I mean three things.
First, talking about the impact of digital technologies in terms of cognitive changes allows for the response, "Yes, but your brain changes every time you learn something." For example, a 2009 Seed article criticizing Greenfield and Nicholas Carr included this:
Everything you do changes your brain," says Daphne Bavelier, associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. "When reading was invented, it also made huge changes to the kind of thinking we do and carried changes to the visual system."
This quote if great because it flattens the distinction between cognitive changes that we should worry about, and those that we shouldn't; and it places our current problems in a long history-- in a way that suggests that either we don't need to worry about them because humans will adjust (we survived books and television, after all!), or because they're inevitable (how many preliterate cultures survived their encounters with Greece, Rome, Spain, Britain, etc.?). (Ben Goldacre's criticism of her work is more substantive.)
Second, talking about "brains" versus "minds" suggests that there's no difference between the two, when arguably there is a very significant difference-- one that we can use to our benefit. Put briefly, most of us care about our minds; and it's useful to see the mind as not just contained within the brain-- not just the expression of a bunch of code that's written by neural pathways and synaptic connections-- but includes the senses, the body, and (if you buy Clark and Chalmer's argument in "The Extended Mind"), can include technologies and objects as well. What we really care about are larger mental capabilities-- our ability to pay attention and concentrate when we need to, to be creative, to be resilient-- that are very complex, and probably not things that can be easily located in particular parts of the brain.
Third, you don't need to be a neuroscientist to actively work to change your mind-- to extend your attention, or your capacity for drawing connections between things, or your ability to listen to other people. It undoubtedly helps to have an understanding of how your brain works, but at this stage it's not decisively useful-- by which I mean, it can help make sense of things you want to do to improve your mind or mental abilities, but it probably won't provide a definitive course of action.