A view from Ivan Pollard

Perspective: The web's changing our brains - and the way we process ads

There has been a lot of debate in the media recently about the effect our digital behaviours are having on the way our brains are being developed.

The prevailing suspicion is that our use of the web, mobile devices and gaming is changing the way our brains develop the connections between neurons and strengthen pathways in a different way than for the past 100 years.

There is a really good book out at the moment called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and it begins to outline the case for a changed way of thinking about our mental development. His hypothesis is that our web-based environment stresses skimming, scanning, browsing and multi-tasking to such an extent that the cellular circuitry that supports those processes is strengthening. The corollary of this is that those circuits that are driving our ability to focus our attention and concentrate are not being developed as much.

On the surface of it, that would not seem to be such a big issue, but Carr goes on to propose that this focus of attention and the mental machinery at play are vital in helping us transfer concepts, thoughts, ideas, patterns etc from our shortto long-term memories and that this transfer seems to activate a lot of the mental processes that give rise to conceptual thinking, critical thinking and even creativity.

It is an interesting line of thought but what does it mean for us in the communications industries? Well, I suspect it is also changing the way we form associations with brands or products and the mechanisms we use to recall and remember things. This then changes the whole way that we think about creating and delivering our messages. It is further evidence of the need to shift from the concept of "one big idea" to "one big story" and work harder to deliver communications across a range of touchpoints in such a way that the bitesized pieces are easily captured, reassembled and combined together to create easily recalled stories rather than concrete memories.

As my brain is old, I can still recall a presentation about how numbers do less than words, which do less than pictures, which are weaker than films, which don't work as well as experiences, which are the best thing we can do. Perhaps we now have to build all of them together in a way that fits the new brain-behaviours strengthened by our web cloud-based world. Of course, there is an argument that says we could be even more radical than this and begin to factor out people all together and focus on devices as the target for our communication. If we increasingly rely on devices to pull together the information we need to make choices and use our brains even less in the process, maybe we should target the software on those devices, not the software in people's heads.

Perhaps the future has Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator helping us with the grocery shopping.

- Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications.

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