Our generation has seen the most drastic jumps in technological advances and this has not only changed the way we perceive the world but also how our brains receive and process information. We seem unable to tear ourselves from our smartphones, tablets and innumerable social networking platforms, going so far as keeping our devices near us all day.
One Gallup poll revealed that more than 50 percent of all smartphone users in the US check their mobile devices a few times an hour or more, and an astonishing 63 percent can’t bear to part with their mobile gadgets, keeping them nearby while sleeping at night. Young people use their smartphones more than any other age group with more than 70 percent of those polled checking their devices a few times or more every hour.
Living in this digital age means that we have come to rely on devices in one way or another. However, how many of us give any attention to how technology is affecting our behavior, relationships or lives? Maybe we should be more mindful of how often we use technology since it’s been found to alter our brains in these 5 ways:
1. We now have shorter attention spans and are more distracted.
Before the deluge of iPhones, iPads and other devices, the average person had an attention span of about 12 seconds. Now it’s believed that we can only concentrate for about 8 seconds on average before moving on to something else. Fun fact: the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds!
It’s hard to stay on task with all the distractions we have these days. Something is always going viral, there are new trends to follow and our phone lights are always winking to alert us to new messages. These tech distractions affect our relationships, productivity and ability to learn — all of which require a certain level of concentration. Being constantly inundated with information also impacts our creativity and ability to be contemplative.
2. We’ve improved our ability to multitask (at least we think we have).
Many of us brag about how we can do several things at once. We say we can talk on the phone, watch YouTube videos and compose email replies at the same time. While that certainly sounds impressive, research reminds us that performing different activities that rely on the same type of brain processing isn’t possible. Doing so only reduces brain efficiency and makes it harder for us to retain information.
3. We’ve become tech addicts.
Admit it. You’re guilty of stopping work to check your phone once the message tone pings or stealing a few minutes to check your Twitter timeline or Facebook feed. There’s a certain gratification that comes with seeing new notifications and messages which is why some of us compulsively check social media platforms numerous times each day, spending hours blissfully scrolling down those pages. Even worse, some individuals end up suffering from video or mobile game addiction, needing rehab and professional help to detox.
The reason for this is simple: technology has built-in gratification that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain, keeping us coming back for more.
4. Our face-to-face interactions have been undermined.
Have you ever been out with friends and at some point noticed all of you were spending more time staring at your screens than chatting with each other? Or during your train ride realized everyone was busy on their cellphones, oblivious to the world? We have technology to thank for turning us into zombies.
These days we rely on emojis to express our feelings and prefer online interactions to in-person conversations. It’s even worse for kids and teens who’ve grown up in the digital era since many haven’t developed conversation skills or learned to read social cues. As a result, many miss out on major aspects of natural communication.
5. We’re becoming more forgetful.
Research has revealed that many millennials are more forgetful than seniors — something that can be attributed to the constant use of technology. In order to remember something, we need to move that information from our working memory (conscious mind) to our long-term memory and this hinges on our attentiveness.
But thanks to technology, we are constantly taking in new information, barely having enough time to think about it and commit it to memory before something else grabs our attention. This impacts our memory and makes us more forgetful.
While technology has countless benefits, it also has some drawbacks. The best way to have a balanced life and mitigate some of the negative effects of technology is to commit to setting aside our mobile devices for a few hours each day. Meditation, yoga and exercise can also help us focus on living in the moment. Taking time to put down our phones and consciously contemplate what’s in front of us will go a long way towards improving our lives.
Newport, F. (2015). Most U.S. Smartphone Owners Check Phone at Least Hourly. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx
Galasso Bonanno, S. (2016). Social Media’s Impact on Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/social-medias-impact-on-relationships/
McSpadden, K. (2015). You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish. Time Health. Retrieved from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
Elgan, M. (2017). Smartphones make people distracted and unproductive. Computerworld. Retrieved from https://www.computerworld.com/article/3215276/smartphones/smartphones-make-people-distracted-and-unproductive.html
Nauert PhD, R. (2017). Imaging Study Shows Multitasking Reduces Brain Efficiency. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/04/26/imaging-study-shows-multitasking-reduces-brain-efficiency/119664.html
Carter, A. (2017). A New Addiction on the Rise: Mobile Game Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.addictions.com/blog/a-new-addiction-on-the-rise-mobile-game-addiction/
Social media’s impact on self-esteem & its effects on teens today. Retrieved from https://www.sundancecanyonacademy.com/social-medias-impact-on-self-esteem-its-effects-on-teens-today-infographic/
Emling, S. (2013). Study Shows Millennials Are More Forgetful Than Seniors. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/02/millennial-forgetfulness_n_3695512.html