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Published on: June 9, 2015
Episode 70: A Burmese Spring and Insidious Technovelty

Good evening, listeners! We have an excellent episode for you this week as host Richard Aldous speaks with Rena Pederson about the Burma Spring before discussing what ubiquitous technology is doing to our brains with Richard E. Cytowic.

First, Richard welcomes Rena Pederson, former adviser on strategic communications at the U.S. Department of State and the author of The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation, to the show to discuss dichotomous Burma. She describes Burma as a beautiful, beguiling country rich in resources but faced with widespread poverty, with an estimated two-thirds to three-quarters of its citizens lacking access to electricity. She points to a distressing increase in political prisoners and new draconian anti-Muslim laws as worrying signs for the country, even as it enjoys economic growth and a rapid increase in foreign investment. Then she touches on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s upcoming visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, and what that means for Burmese elections and more broadly for Burma’s relationship with China.

Then, author and professor of neurology at George Washington University Richard E. Cytowic examines the seldom-discussed tradeoffs that come with technological advances, focusing on what increased “screen time”—whether on phones, tablets, computers, or television—is doing to our brains, and especially to the still-developing brains of children and teens. He discusses his own as well as others’ research on the topic, explaining the loss of the connection between the brain and the hand that comes with typing, and the loss of motor skills that this new way of writing brings. He discusses the benefits of reading on paper as opposed to on screens and the dangers of blithely adopting each new technology as it comes along.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and follow our host Richard Aldous @RJAldous, Rena Pederson @PedersonR1, and Richard E. Cytowic @Cytowic on Twitter.

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