Invitation to the Baroness and Socrates





Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist who has commented unfavourably about changes to the brain in children caused by their use of IT devices, would have been welcome at my daughter’s house one evening about six months ago.

We had returned from seeing a lovely, local, amateur theatre offering, which had presented a melange of tunes from well known musicals. This had included a number of songs  from “Les Miserables”. In a two meter square area around a table, grazing from Pizza ordered on line and then delivered, gathered five adults, a fifteen year old boy and a six year old boy. Three adults and the two boys had their iPads/ iPhones in their hands. An animated discussion, if not argument, had developed about which singer, over the many years that had elapsed since Les Miserables was first performed, had offered the best rendition of “Bring Him Home”. Each speaker was supporting his or her views with down loaded versions. Three other children were on the move around the house putting in random appearances at the table to help themselves to pizza and to voice their opinions. This animated comparison of various musical offerings, supported by argument and learned analysis of what was being offered (including from the six year old), was impressive. A seven year old girl wheeled by from time to time when she heard something to which she wanted to add her considered opinion or to say what tickled her fancy, and an 11 year old boy, also listening on the move, sang along. The two year old was very excited.

I have seldom seen such group enthusiasm or any debate backed by such immediate hard evidence.

Even Socrates, whose opinion on the value of reading and writing much mirrored that of the Baroness on digital technology, would have been impressed. He should have been there with the Baroness. I freely agree with them both that reading, writing and digital technology each, in its turn, modifies the brain. Isn’t that otherwise known as evolution?

A further factor, which supports the value to the brain of access to digital technology is the equalising nature of the medium. (I am sure, however, neither the Baroness or Socrates might like this as it would lower their respective statuses.) On this same occasion there was a perfect example of equalisation. The seven year old girl suggested that perhaps “The Professor” should give a definitive answer as to which version was the best. She was referring to her Uncle, one of the iPhone users, who happens to have an PhD in Music. Two of the other adults (one playing an iPhone) were musicians too. But those of us who were not musicians felt we had a perfect right to express our opinions. This was not merely an academic exercise. We were actually hearing the contenders, and in the kind of quick succession, with part replays, not possible in a live concert format. The six year old eloquently expressed the superiority of one version, which he had previously admired by himself, over anything “The Professor” could suggest and he now offered it with conviction as his choice, and his reason – it made him feel like crying. What better accolade than that? In the “olden days” he would have had to bow down to the professor’s opinion and his emotional reaction would not have been able to be validated, as it was, in a semi public forum.

Digital technology was thus encouraging hands on development of independent thinking in the young user.

This whole episode was interactive, it was social, it was educational.


Baroness, you are missing out! (And we know Socrates would have had a ball with reading had he given it a go.)


About Anne Powles

I am retired from paid employment. During my working life I have been variously and sometimes contemporaneously, wife, mother of four, lawyer, teacher and psychologist. I have also been a serial education junkie. As are we all, I have been an observer of the world around me. Here I have recorded some of my memories, observations and theorisings.
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