How Smart Technology is Making Us Smart

Smarter technology, smarter people…right?

In the last decade we’ve seen a dramatic increase in not only the amount of technology we have available at our fingertips, but in our dependency on these technologies. While the constant evolution of iPhones, laptops, tablets, and internet are certainly evidence of progress, is it possible that we’ve become too reliant on these digital tools? Of course, having this quick and untethered access to the internet can aid in our productivity and education – many of us lean on these tools to learn new languages, answer pressing questions, and keep up with current events. There are also many apps and games that have been designed specifically to boost our brain function and activity.

With smartphones in our hands, we can navigate foreign cities, manage our finances, answer complex equations and accomplish hundreds of other tasks. With all these positives, where did we go wrong?

These never-ending tech advancements have come with some unintended consequences. According to neuroscientist, Michael Merzenich in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr, technology has “massively rewired” our brains. We’re no longer required to memorize maps or solve mathematical equations in our heads. By relying on digital tools, we’ve stopped exercising our brains. After all, what’s the point in memorizing your best friend’s phone number if your phone will do it for you?

 

Here are a few ways technology has rewired our brains, for the worse:

  1. Easily Distracted
    Ever try to focus on one task or go a full hour of studying without looking at your phone? It’s pretty hard – especially if you’re a teen! A 2012 Pew Research Center survey of over 2,400 teachers found that most instructors feel that students today are more easily distracted than previous generations. In fact, 87% of teachers agreed that digital technologies are the cause of an easily distracted generation with short attention spans. Additionally, 64% of teachers agreed that digital technologies distract students more than they help them when it comes to education and academics.
  2. Shorter Memory
    When we know that all of the information we need is stored on our phones or available on the internet, we become less likely to store the information in memory. Studies have found that when people expect to have access to the information they require, they exhibit lower rates of recall of that information. In addition to providing the information we need, the internet hounds us with vast quantities of information we don’t need. Rather than reading through entire books or articles, we now focus on gathering as much information as we can in short bursts. This type of information overload leads to lower levels of comprehension and higher levels of forgetfulness. According to a 2013 Trending Machine survey, millennials are surprisingly more likely to forget simple details like where they left their keys or what day it is than older generations.
  3. Can’t Concentrate
    A study conducted in 2005 found that persistent interruptions have a significant effect on our work performance. In fact, people who were easily distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ. The study also found that when people try to resist juggling new emails or phone calls with existing work, the effect is equivalent to losing one night of sleep. Concentrating on one task with no interruptions has become so difficult that it puts both a physical and mental strain on our bodies. Ex-Apple and Microsoft consultant, Linda Stone, coined the term “Continuous Partial Attention,” which describes a constant state of alertness in which we are always scanning the environment for new tasks or information but never fully focusing on anything. This means that we now need information to be given to us in shorter, more entertaining bursts or we risk losing our focus.

With these points in mind, it’s easy to see how this digital age has rewired our brains to rely on and crave digital tools. But as our world continues to evolve, we continue to prioritize these technologies. It’s probably safe to say that our use of and addiction to technological aids will only continue to grow. So with this growing reliance on technology, will we just keep getting dumber?