Ah, technology! A modern wonder! Technology certainly makes our lives easier and saves us time on many levels with all of the nifty smartphones, apps, programs, and not to mention the internet! But what is all of this convenience doing to our brains?
My husband, tech guy extraordinaire, approached me with this topic and got me thinking. With all the positives technology brings on a learning/knowledge level; what are the negatives? It may seem like all positives at first thought, but how does it, on a cognitive level, affect us? To be straightforward, does technology change the way your brain values information? Hmm, are you curious, yet?
You can ask me a question about anything at all and almost instantly, with a click of a button, I can give you an answer. The internet is an endless database of knowledge; knowledge that can be obtained at lighting speeds. I may have the answers to the questions you asked, but will my brain store them as long-term memory?
No, probably not. Our long-term memories have endless storage capacities and can hold information indefinitely while short-term memory is very limited in terms of how much and how long information can be stored. But the short-term memory is likely place where this new knowledge I just obtained will end up; dumped and quickly forgotten. Why is this? Partly, because we have learned and taught our brains, through conditioning, that if we need to “know” something, we can quickly look it up and have the answer. No problem, no fuss! After all, we just need to access the ole’ “external hard drive,” be it our phones, or the internet, for example.
An article published in Scientific American, referred to the internet as “the brain’s external hard drive” too, explaining that the act of remembering has been replaced by “new digital tools.” Think about it; how many people don’t know their phone number these days? Chances are you may not even know your own. My husband certainly doesn’t know mine. We store this information on our phones hard drive, so we technically have the information and we know that we do; therefore, our brain doesn’t have the need to store it. See how that can work?
Furthermore, to really store information long-term we must pay attention to details. These details become easily forgotten the more distractions we encounter. Consider the average website or app; it is likely crammed full of pictures, information, and advertisements. You are literally bombarding your brain with information, leading to “digital information overload.”
According to Tony Schwartz, author of The Way We’re Working, Isn’t Working, “It’s like having water poured into a glass continuously all day long, so whatever was there at the top has to spill out as the new water comes down. We’re constantly losing the information that’s just come in – we’re constantly replacing it, and there’s no place to hold what you’ve already gotten. It makes for a very superficial experience; you’ve only got whatever’s in your mind at the moment.” This makes it near impossible for your brain to store this information away. So what happens? You quickly forget the newly obtained information.
Lastly, technology helps us to be more productive and efficient by allowing us to multi-task. This multi-tasking may help our busy lives, but it dampers our brain’s ability to store long-term memories. This, too, is attributed to our attention to details. Research shows that people who multitask while working or doing school work, understand and retain less of the information they are presented with.
Researchers at MIT have found that the neural circuits, the ones that the brain use when storing lasting memories, are less efficient unless you are giving your full attention to what you are studying or trying to learn. So in short; multi-tasking makes you more efficient while making your brain less efficient. That’s quite the conundrum, now isn’t it?
I suddenly have the overwhelming urge to ditch the computer, go to the library, and pick up a book. Obtain all of my future information the old fashion way! Well, maybe not ALL of it…..
-I dedicate this article to the love of my life, Adam Moses. Thank you for the inspiration.