Has this ever happened to you? You are looking at your phone or your tablet, and a friend of yours starts talking to you. You start nodding your head because you don’t want to be rude. TheEffects of digital devices on brain and memory function
You don’t want to feel like you’re being cold to your friend. Obviously, your friend is important enough to you to have around. But you think whatever it is you’re viewing on your device is also equally, if not more, important.
Have you ever had an experience where your friend said, “So what do you think? Are you even listening to me?” “How come you’re just nodding, I said something really shocking, I mean I’m shocked!”
If your friend has ever said any of these, welcome to the modern world. Ever since the launch of the Apple iPhone in 2007, the scenario that I have described above have become all too familiar.
We quickly realize that were so preoccupied with the stuff we’re viewing on our little screens that we spend quite a bit of time being completely clueless to what’s going on around us. In fact, when it comes to conversational etiquette, the situation just described is probably one of the worst offenses you can make. You might just have to go to etiquette jail for being so ‘rude.’
The weird thing about all of this is we think we have the best excuse in the world: we’re busy or ‘something important’ came up. Well, it turns out that your short term memory might just be in short supply. In fact, your attention span may well be scrambled.
The truth is, Americans and people all over the world have become so much busier while supposedly living a much more comfortable and convenient life, thanks to these devices. It seems like an oxymoron. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but it isn’t.
The funny thing about technology is that all these inventions are supposed to make our lives better. They save time, they help us process more information. They enable us to do more things at once, etc.
But the problem is, when we come up with some sort of innovation that enabled us to save time, what do you think happens next? That’s right, we go out of our way to find something else to fill in that time.
It’s a never-ending cycle. It’s like people are caught in this technology treadmill or hamster wheel. I need you to think about this because it forms the context of answering the question: Are digital devices beneficial or damaging to the brain or memory function?
The bottom line is it depends on how you define damaging. We can see how digital devices can benefit the brain. Since if you are confronted with a tremendous amount of information that you need to process, your brain is challenged. Your brain is given a very basic homework assignment: How can you process a huge amount of information without going crazy or taking a ridiculous amount of time?
The answer is we end up with cognitive coping mechanisms. The most common is to simply scan instead of read. We’re looking for certain keywords. We’re for certain context. More intelligent people or more effective readers focus on context.
They’re not very literal. They’re not just looking for a specific phrase. Otherwise, they’re not going to care. This works quite a bit because if you have Twitter installed on your mobile phone, you know how crazy it can be.
In fact, according to some estimates, there are in excess of 2 million pieces of new information published online every single day. We’re talking about blog posts, articles, white papers, books, you name it.
That’s a lot of information. And thankfully, a lot of people start to scan, and this has made the brain more efficient, because if you ask a typical law student interning for a judge how they can read thousands upon thousands of pages every single day, so the judge can make rulings every single day, they would tell you that they just scan.
In fact, once they get used to their work, they scan only on a specific portion of the pleadings sent in by both parties and litigation. The same applies to you, even if you don’t have a legal background, or even if you didn’t go to college. It still works that way.
If you’re confronted with a lot of information, your brain is challenged to come up with a strategy that would produce roughly the same results as you would get if you did have the time. You see how this works?
So in this context, digital devices can be very beneficial. What is damaging involves social interaction. The issue is not memory, or reading and comprehension skills, or even overall brain functions.
The big challenge involves social skills, and social relationships, because if you’ve ever tried to take a mobile device from your kid who seems to be addicted to watching Youtube videos, or playing mobile app games, you probably are going to have a temper tantrum on your hands. It’s not a pretty sight.
This is due to the fact that when people process information in short pieces and in small bits, they don’t develop much patience. They don’t develop this mindset that people who read novels develop.
When you read a lot of novels, you start having a big picture view. You’re more than happy to nibble on small parts of the novel, but you know it leads to something bigger. There’s some sort of overarching narrative that this particular piece that you’re reading leads to.
You lose that when you consume entertainment and content through mobile devices. And this translates to lack of patience with others, general frustration with tasks that require maturity and a big picture view.
This is the more alarming aspect of mobile devices, because if you think that the social fabric is fragile now, wait until more and more people are weaned on digital devices. It’s scary but fascinating at the same time.