August 25, 2022
Our modern world is run by technology, specifically digital technology. Most of us live on the Grid. You are able to read what I’m writing here precisely because you are part of this grid life, which is defined by the digital and technological experience. And the experience changes every day.
One of our enduring problems with technology is that it changes too fast. Humans – just like any other species on Earth – take time to evolve. And when our slow-evolving mind meets fast-evolving tech, it is often the mind that gets short-changed. Technology has a lot of negative effects on our brain, and they can become serious and harmful over time.
Here are some of the most significant ways technology can affect and even change your brain. Read on!
How many phone numbers can you rattle off just from the top of your mind? Chances are, not many, probably two or three of them. Ask older generations who were less exposed to technology though, and you’ll find they remember a lot more of them.
The reason is, we are increasingly dependent on memory-aiding tech. Phone and computer memories are replacing our actual memories, and that in turn is decreasing our brain’s overall capacity for remembering. This process is called ‘cognitive offloading’, and it happens every time you consult the internet to check on some information. The more you rely on technology to act as your memory, the less confident you’ll be using your own over time.
Digital media and technology have increased our capacity to squeeze more work into a shorter span of time. Mobile devices regularly advertise as a solution for continuing or checking in on your office work while spending time elsewhere, such as with your family or on a vacation. Digital media, in short, pushes us to multitask and touts greater connectivity as the key to it.
But our brain doesn’t really work like that. The human brain works best when it can give a job it's full attention. When we try to multitask, our capacity for attention doesn’t automatically increase to accommodate all the tasks. Rather, it divides the available amount. Which means you actually have less attention to spare for each of your tasks.
When you do this regularly, i.e. make divided attention into a habit, your natural capacity for attention decreases. After a point, your attention begins to decrease even quicker on each task you set for yourself. Over time, your natural attention span is lowered. Without focus and attention, however, no task can be done well. So a lower attention span essentially means failing to give your best to all the tasks which require your attention.
Over-reliance on technology affects another crucial facet of the human mind; the ability to think abstractly. Recent studies point to the fact that our exposure to digital modes of communication is making us more inclined to prefer concrete details over abstract interpretation.
This preference, in turn, leads to an overall decrease in our capacity to effectively interpret disjointed information. Our ability to think abstractly is what allows us to put value to our experiences. Lessening of that ability is harmful not just to our brains, but to society at large as well.
When abstraction lessens, so does our ability to imagine. And one of the core functions of human society is imagination. Imagination allows us to build trusted relationships between strangers, develop communications, and establish common structures and rules. Basically, when we lose the ability to imagine, we stop understanding the experiences of other people.
Digital media and technology provide us with information about other people, but information is not the only way we learn about others. Visual cues, body language, touch, sound – all of this plays a significant role in building perception. When we see only two-dimensional information about a person, we miss out on all the other details, and our ability to imagine a shared experience is lessened.
Digital technology has been a revolutionary intervention in the history of human civilization. But if not handled with mindful caution and care, this could very well lead to a breakdown of many crucial features of what makes us human. Being mindful of our engagement with technology is the need of the hour. Perhaps we should give it a little more thought, for the sake of our brains.