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Popcorn brain

To encourage students to see summer as an opportunity to switch off technology and enjoy a slower pace of life.

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


Preparation and materials


  1. Come in to the assembly eating from a big bag of popcorn and ask: Who likes popcorn? Where and when do we eat it?

    Solicit the help of a few pupils and demonstrate how simple it is to make popcorn.

    Identify that making popcorn is a noisy, fast-paced affair as each corn pops spontaneously. It can leave you a bit frazzled!
  2. Recent research shows that many of us are suffering from something that David Levy, who is a brain surgeon, calls ‘popcorn brain’.

    ‘Popcorn brain’ is the result of overstimulation of the brain due to the constant habit of electronic multitasking. Apparently our brains are becoming more and more accustomed to the ‘popping’ fast-paced stream of information that we find on the Internet. As a result, we are becoming increasingly less able to handle a slower pace of life.

    As well as over stimulating our brains, we are also straining our eyes, showing signs of agitation and stress and often depriving our bodies of sleep.

    Research shows that Internet addiction can limit creativity and deep thought, and also the ability to interact with others. Clifford Nass, a social psychologist at Stanford University, USA, writes that studies show that multitasking on the Internet ‘can make you forget how to read human emotions’. ‘Human interaction is a learned skill,’ he says.
  3. Dr Hilarie Cash, who treats people addicted to their electronic gadgets, warns that ‘the human brain is wired to crave the instant gratification, fast pace and the unpredictability of technology’. The Internet, she says, ‘is like a magnet, drawing us in’. It is all too easy for us to become addicted to the Internet.

    Are you and I addicted to the Internet?

    Read out the following questions and give the pupils time to think about their individual lifestyles:

    (a)  Did you check your emails, work on the computer or use the mobile phone before coming to school this morning?
    (b)  How often do you check your email in a day?
    (c)  How much time do you spend connecting with friends on Facebook?
    (d)  Do you use your mobile phone when you are walking?
    (e)  On average, how many hours a day do you spend on the computer screen?

    Usually when we think of addiction we think of drugs, smoking and alcohol. But could it be as difficult to go ‘cold turkey’ on technology as it is on other drugs? Have we become slaves to technology?
  4. Take this summer holiday challenge!

    –  Decide to switch off all electronic technology for a few hours, a day or even a weekend. You might even need to hide your laptop, or ask someone else to hide it for you!

    (Note how you feel initially. Perhaps disconnected, frustrated, impatient with this slower pace of life, even jittery.)

    – Use that free time to do something different, such as reading a book, taking a walk, visiting a friend, working at a hobby.

    –  Stare out of the window. Levy says that doing this for even two minutes can help train your brain to slow down a bit.

    –  Find a garden to walk in or sit in, and enjoy the sunshine.
  5. ‘The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses,’ writes Hanna Rion, who was a landscape and garden artist.

    It may even be what the grown ups in your family need too! You can assure them that you have it on good authority that it is quite respectable to laze around in the garden.

    A quote from the philosopher Sam Keen: ‘Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability.’
  6. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised about the effect a garden can have on us. The Bible tells us that when God made human beings in his image he placed them in a beautiful garden, and in the cool of the evening God would come and talk with his friends.

    Perhaps we need to slow down and enjoy the beauty that is around us, especially in these summer days.

Time for reflection

Do you think you might have a popcorn brain?

At the beginning of the summer break we have an opportunity to switch off, and give our brains a bit of a holiday by starting to appreciate a slower pace of life.

(Conclude the assembly with one of the following exercises.)

1.  Spend a few minutes slowing down and reconnecting with your senses.

Take a few deep breaths.
What can you hear?
What can you smell?
How has your awareness been heightened?
How do you feel?

2.  (Play the dawn chorus: see ‘Preparation and materials’.)

Spend a few moments listening to this birdsong at dawn.
Imagine this as early morning in a garden near you.

Almighty God,
we are thankful for the great advances in technology in our age.
We appreciate the wealth of information at our fingertips,
the ability to connect with people all over the world,
and the marvellous advances in health due to computer aids.
We are aware, though, that our brains were not meant
to have constant stimulation of this sort.
We ask your forgiveness where our love for technology
has meant that we are damaging our physical bodies,
and cutting ourselves off from the real world with all its beauty
and all it has to teach us.
Help us to find a balance which keeps us healthy
and connected to the real everyday world and its needs.



Play some music associated with gardens, such as, ‘The walk to paradise garden’ by Delius.

Publication date: August 2012   (Vol.14 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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