Technology Is Making Us Stupid!
Is my phone making me stupid?
Is our reliance on technology making us dumber? New studies from the University of St Andrews has found that our reliance in having information at our fingertips may increase the likelihood of dementia, as we're effectively "outsourcing our brains to Google". Are our smartphones really a double-edged swords? MH investigates.
I just bought the new iPhone. I’m not trying to be Charlie Big Potatoes here, I just want to share.
My mobile has been my most captivating companion since Nokia bricks, not Angry Birds, were Finland’s best export. I love my phone. I feed it my attention and it guides me when I’m lost, entertains me on my commute andsends me filthy photos via WhatsApp. I’m willingly enslaved. iSerf. Maybe I should change that. I mean, I could walk, queue, eat, breathe and sit on the loo without my phone – but, really, why would I?
Well, the results of smartphone use are in, and they’re troubling. Our phones are downgrading our sleep, topping up our fat stores, depleting our batteries, and making our minds less... you know, thinky. Our brains are entering unplanned obsolescence and we secretly knew it all along.
(Related: can your phone make you healthier?)
We’re not talking about radiation – it’s more insidious than that. Squinting and jabbing constantly at these handheld oblongs is making hollow men of us.
To wit: once upon a time I would make plans then simply turn up. Now I make plans, remake them, have them remade on me, change locations a few times, then get cancelled on by text at the last minute. Meet-ups fast become mind-boggling time-conundrums that Stephen Hawking would struggle with. So we accept it. Maybe post an angry tweet if we’re really riled.
These lifestyle tweaks are frazzling our circuit-boards, exposing “new weaknesses in higher-order cognitive processes,” says Cornell University. These mental abilities – including “problem solving, critical thinking and imagination” – are fast becoming as outdated as txtspk because we can’t ignore the buzz in our pocket.
(Related: why we could all use a digital detox)
And the more attention we pay to our phones, the more their demands grow. I write one email, receive two back. Read one article, open three new tabs. The attention debt multiplies, metastasizes, and our waistlines expand with it. Nevertheless, tweets keep arriving and Facebook needs updating. I can hardly just let the battery die; love demands sacrifice at all hours.
That twitchy phone-checking feeling is our synapses shooting indiscriminately because they’re expecting distraction. Neuroplasticity, our brain-matter’s ability to change, is a wonderful thing. It helps London cabbies’ hippocampuses expand to squeeze in an entire city. But when a drive-by shooting oftweets, texts and emailshits our brains, they adapt to be distracted.
Thesabbathmanifesto.orgcollective has instigated an annual Day Of Unplugging to solve this, while Wayne Muller, author ofFinding Rest, Renewal And Delight In Our Busy Lives, says taking a ‘digital sabbatical’ each week can offer a “visceral experience of life-giving nourishment and rest”. I left my phone at home for a day and felt like a monk who’d lost his prayer beads. Maybe that’s why I should do it more often.
BlackBerry-afflicted types have also been busy making ‘Mindfulness Training’ apps a business cliché for the 2010s – just like bluetooth headsets in the Noughties and cocaine-snorting misogyny before that. Mindfulness is a meditation technique which helps you choose what you pay attention to: a smart antidote to distraction. But even I can see an addict’s reasoning here; immerse yourself in a new app to solve your tech-dependent lifestyle. It’s like supersizing a Diet Coke to lose weight.
It turns out mindfulness doesn’t need an app.You watch your breath, letting your thoughts pass.The theory is that clutching at your thoughts makes you distraction’s bitch. When I first tried this, phoneless, watching myself breathing, I was out of my comfort zone. I had expected a retina-display show of intellectual pyrotechnics going on up there, but it was mainly a distracted and bored graspy 10 minutes with winking moments of calm clarity.
But I’m determined to keep at it. In this semi-futuristic war for attention, we are sleepwalking across the battlefield towards the androids. Proper, simple mindfulness (free, no in-app purchase) is boring maybe, but it does help me realise I’m as well-armed as a newborn kitten. It’s scary in an edifying way. Coming back to your breath gives you control of your mind again. Try it and let me know how you get on. Better yet, tweet me; my phone’s gone quiet.
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