We have access to more information than ever before, but is this making us smarter, as we have been promised, or just limiting our ability to think?
Constant messages, alerts and emails create an environment of distraction. It is great for the immediate delivery of news and information. But is it creating problems for the retention of information?
The multi-tasking ability presented by our constant access to our devices is taking a heavy toll on our cognitive function, according to a Stanford study.
The study compared a group of people who spent a lot of time online and multi-tasking with a group that did not and gave them three basic tests of cognitive function. The heavy multitaskers did worse on all three tests.
People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time, according to the researchers.
Nicholas Carr, author of ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’ believes being peppered with messages and bits of information frustrates the mind’s ability to think deeply.
“The average person with a smartphone will pull out the phone and look at it about 150 times a day,” Mr Carr believes.
When using these devices, the average user touches their phone around 2617 times per day, in lots of little sessions.
“We’re losing that contemplative, focused, attentive state of mind that is crucial to the creation of knowledge and deep thinking in general,” Mr Carr states.
The key to building knowledge is taking information from your conscious mind and storing it in your long-term memory, creating meaningful connections and associations between what we are learning and the information that we already know. The constant interruptions and distractions of our smart devices are therefore disturbing memory consolidation and also limiting our ability to think creatively.
Andrew Keen, author of the book ‘The Internet is Not the Answer’, says that despite access to such a wide variety of information, most people are narrowing their focus to confirm their pre-existing beliefs instead of seeking out different perspectives.
While there is some evidence to suggest a decrease in cognitive function due to our smart technology, it isn’t going away any time soon. Perhaps the best advice is to take an occasional ‘digital detox’ and set aside some time each day where you are free from the interruptions of your smart technology.
What do you think? Is our smart technology making us the smartest generation or is it limiting our ability to think through our problems and find our own solutions?