It appears inevitable that technology is increasingly taking over our lives. However, it seems that it can also help us avoid ageing and age-related disease, in a way that has not been described before.
We are experiencing an interacting amalgamation of humans and technology. Our research shows that, if we engage with technology in a positive and meaningful way, we increase the information load to our brain and this has several effects on our biology. For example, when a positive amount of information (i.e. not too little and not too much, but just pleasantly challenging) reaches our brain cells (neurons), these neurons react by activating the ‘neuronal stress response’ mechanisms. In essence, this response aims to contain the slight stress caused by the challenge tothe neuron, and leaves the neuron healthy and more ‘information-rich’.
The information overload of our modern society represents one such positive challenge, known as a ‘hormetic stressor’. Hormesis is a widespread phenomenon characterized by a ‘low-dose activation, high-dose inhibition’ principle. This means that a low dose of any given stimulus (a challenge) can stimulate the organism in a positive way and result in health improvement, whereas an excessive or suboptimal exposure of the same stimulus can result in damage and disease. So, a challenging exposure to information technology results in brain improvement.
But this is not all. During the neuronal stress response there is production of factors (such as Protein kinase RNA-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase, Activating-transcription-factor-6, and Mitogen-activated protein kinases), which are in direct competition with the germline – the cells and elements of our sperm and eggs. This competition takes place due to the fact that repair resources are limited: age-related damage happens because the repair resources have been directed by evolution to the germline, in order to assure a good repair mechanism and thus continuation of the species, leaving limited resources to repair of the rest of the body. Therefore, we age and die, with our genes being passed unharmed to the next generation. But, our research indicates that the activation of neuronal stress response diverts these repair resources from the germline back to the neuron and thus the neuron remains healthy and functions for longer.
In summary then, information technology is placing an increased cognitive load on our brain. This hormetic (positive) stress places our neurons under continual pressure to repair themselves. This reverses the existing natural preference for allocating repair resources to the germline,with the neurons becoming able to fully repair any age-related damage, and thus function better. In this way, the hormetic cognitive stress originating from exposure to information derived from new technology, may result in a reduction of ageing and age-related diseases.