Bullish on Books Blog

Novel Takes a Look at How Technology is Reprogramming our Brains

Matt Richtel|Author, "Devil's Plaything"

Something different from Bullish on Bookshere. We normally never feature fiction, but here's one book that's worth the exception. In the "Devil's Plaything," the author, Matt Richtel(who by day is the technology reporter for the New York Times and is a Pulitzer Prize winner) hits on a theme that is a real-life thriller. In "Devils Plaything" Richtel takes a look at how technology is reprogramming our brains. See, toldja it was worth making an exception.

Guest Author Blog by Matt Richtel, author of "Devil's Plaything."

Sure, your computer and smart phone make you more productive. They are arguably the most vital tools since sticks and fire. But are they baking your brain?

Maybe not baking, but singing around the edges.

Research shows multitasking fractures attention, causes performance loss, can inhibit sleep (if done late at night), learning and memory.

Not me, you say. Yes, likely, you. In a series of stories I wrote last year for The New York Times, I talked to lots of smart, capable entrepreneurs. One of them once missed an email offering to buy his company in a deal worth $1.7 million because he was so deluged with incoming texts, messages and calls, that the buyout offer slid down his in-box unnoticed.

So, in short, wield your technology tools as carefully as you might fire and a stick – with appreciation and respect.

by Matt Richtel

This is not, by the way, crazy Luddite talk. But if you’re looking for some of that, I’m happy to wax a little more fantastical: Introducing Devil’s Plaything.

I’ve taken the science and ideas I explored in the series for the NY Timesand worked them up into a thriller, a fast-paced tale of neuro-technology and conspiracy, one getting great reviews (read on) and one that asks a fair, if slightly fantastical, question:

The number of people suffering acute memory loss is exploding at the same time that our computers are getting more and more memory. Are these two statistic related?

More than you dare imagine.

Thus begins Devil’s Plaything, a mystery that has at its core an unusual investigative duo: a reporter based in San Francisco and his 85-year-old grandmother, who suffers severe dementia.

As the book starts, we realize Grandma knows a terrible secret. The catch is that, because of her condition, she doesn’t know what the secret is, or even that she’s carrying a secret around inside her.

One day, she and her reporter grandson are walking around Golden Gate Park when they are nearly shot and killed.

Grandson realizes someone is trying to assassinate his kindly, seemingly innocent grandmother. As he tries to answer why, he finds himself drawn into a web of deadly traps that lands the pair as human lab rats in an experiment perpetrated by great powers in Silicon Valley.

You’re asking: what’s this have to do with me? Well, beyond the fact the book could help you happily kill a few hours while you’re at the beach, the story does draw from real science about how your brain, specifically your memory, is being impacted by heavy device use. I don’t want to give too much away, other than to say: you are not imagining things; your memory isn’t what it used to be.

Don’t trust me? Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly raved about Devil’s Plaything:

“Numerous plot twists and cliffhangers keep the reader turning the pages in this plausible if disquieting scenario of Big Brother not only watching but also messing with minds.”

Matt Richtel is a novelist, cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times based in the San Francisco. He writes about technology, its impact on society, and how it changes the way we how we work, play, and relate to each other. His 2010 series, ‘Our Brain On Computers‘ focuses on how constant use of our devices impacts not only our behavior but our thought processes and even our neurology. His 2009 series about the dangers of multitasking while driving won the Pulitzer for national reporting. Matt’s first novel, Hooked, was a national bestseller. The sequel, Devil’s Plaything, was released in May, 2011 from Harper Collins, and he has more books on the way.

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