The Right Temporo-Parietal Junction

Michelle took me to a lecture on cognitive development and there was a fascinating discussion by JoAnn Deak, a neuro-scientist.

Recent developments in brain scanning technology have led to a new and better understanding of this small area of the brain called the right temporo-parietal junction that is believed to be responsible for thinking about what other people are thinking. In other words, it is the area of the brain most connected to empathy.

It works like this: between the ages of 10 and 20 this area of the brain is mostly undifferentiated neurons. If these neurons are “stretched” or utilized to make decisions about what other people are thinking, they become highly specialized. If not, they become more generalized. The key is that the rTPJ is connected to the visual cortex, so seeing the other person is key to making a decision about what that person is thinking.

Take a child. Most kids are so egocentric anyway that they have no concept of empathy. The reason is because their rTPJ neurons are not specialized yet. When a five-year-old looks at a person telling a tall tale, they have a hard time telling from their face that the story isn’t true. But as children get a little older, they start to read cues in the facial expressions of the person they are communicating with. They can start to detect sarcasm, irony, white lies, neediness, fishing for compliments, etc. The visual and auditory complexes are taking in the usual information but now it’s going through a second pass to assess, “What’s this person really thinking?”

That’s why it’s important to tell children, “Look at his face. What is he feeling?” Only by assessing what the other person is feeling does the observer get a sense of empathy for that other person. And interestingly–here’s where I got interested at least– you have to see able to interact with the person directly. You see their face, you hear their voice–that’s how you feel what they’re feeling and become empathetic.

Dr. Deaks thinks the increase in social networking has resulted is a generation of children who don’t learn this basic empathy. Mean girls who write shit on Facebook can’t see their victims’ faces and therefore don’t exercise these neurons. Texting doesn’t provide cues to the brain as to the other person’s reaction. Only in person interaction works. And frighteningly, as I mentioned, failure to exercise these neurons by age 20 results in undifferentiated and generalized neurons forever– use it or lose it.

So to over-simplify dramatically, social networking is causing teenagers to become sociopaths.

Commissioner Gordo

Gunther came by last night with that nut-job Gordo. Apparently, their GPS-enabled sneakers found a backer.

Seriously. Some moron gave these two idiots half a million dollars to go into production. (If you don’t remember the idea, it’s to put GPS tracking devices in sneakers that are linked to Twitter or Facebook so when you turn it on, everyone knows exactly where you are all the time.) They are calling the shoes “Trakkers.”

Initially I thought, “Why would anyone want to be tracked? Why would anyone want the world to know where they are every second of the day? Don’t people value privacy?”

Then I remembered that no, no one wants privacy anymore. Everyone wants the exact opposite: fame. We are becoming so narcissistic as a society with useless status updates and tweets that of course we want people to know where we are. How else would all our “friends,” “fans,” and “followers” stay in touch with our every inane thought and move?

I know I’m not the first to say it, but it needs to be said again: Most people have little if anything interesting going on in their lives. Not everyone can be a celebrity. Not everyone deserves an audience.

Maybe this is hypocritical. After all, I’m writing this blog, aren’t I? Is the implication, “You have nothing worthwhile to say but I do”?

I guess the difference is, I only post my interactions with strangers (and some updates on my love life) when they are interesting and on topic. I don’t post “Go Bruins!” or “I hate my boss!” And I don’t tell you where I am all day long!

So long story short, I will not be buying Trakkers. Will you?

Gordian Knot

That guy Gordo keeps emailing me asking if there’s any jobs at my bank.

I’m the kind of guy who responds to every email (excluding junk) but these ones I just deleted. Then, last night he calls me on my cell. (Thanks, Gunther!)

I was dreading taking the call, but I figured he’d just keep bothering me, so I answered. I said, “Yeah, hey, I checked around and we’re not hiring.”

But he was like, “Oh, don’t worry about that. That’s not why I’m calling.”

Turns out, he wants to talk to me about a business idea he has. I really, really didn’t want to hear it but guess what? He was calling from Gunther’s place, so before I knew it, he and Gunther were in my place pitching their idea.

The idea is stupid as you might have guessed but I still don’t want to publicly describe it in case some other idiot wants to invest. Suffice to say, it has to tracking devices, Twitter, and a certain item of clothing.

Now that I think about it, I’m fairly certain no one will ever want to pursue this, so let’s just be clear what we’re dealing with: GPS-enabled sneakers that automatically link to your Twitter account. The idea is that you can track celebrities who want to be tracked via Twitter. Not sure why anyone would want to wear these, but if any readers are interested I can pass on your info. They’re looking for $500,000 “seed” money.

This is not an April Fools joke.