By Stephanie Levin
Digital technology may well be the darling of the 21st Century, but is it good for your brain? When I ask college students if the onslaught of information affects their brains, or how they learn, there is a digital divide in responses. The 20 year-olds and under grew up connected, yet will admit that focusing on one thing for any length of time is problematic. Wedded to their phones, they glance at them numerous times in class, jump when it jiggles and bolt out of the class to answer it; and as for critical thinking...humm, is it necessary?
Half of my students sleep with their phones, and have separation anxiety at the thought of being disconnected from them. In contrast, students in their late 20s and upward tend not to be connected all the time. They are certainly not connected 24/7, tend to ask questions and generally are more engaged in class. This age group reads both online and printed text. About 80% of the 20 under group didn’t read on or offline. Everyone used social networking.
No one could tell me if being wired all the time takes a toll on the brain or if multitasking hampers attention or interferes with information assimilation. But, I could tell them that research bears out that the brain is, indeed, affected by the constant barrage of technology, and that the brain needs a break; after all, it’s a muscle for thinking, not a machine.
Is there too much technology? There’s no question that technology has yielded stupendous results in our lives, our jobs and communication. But studies continue to show that over-dependence on technology, multitasking and constant connectivity is creating a distracted generation with a short attention span. Studies out of Stanford, MIT and UCSD find growing evidence that multitasking frazzles the brain making it less productive. Heavy multitaskers have trouble paying attention and filtering out irrelevant information. The failure to filter suggests that they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information, according to a 2009 study from Stanford, or in other words their cognitive ability is impaired. While multitaskers think they are accomplishing more, studies show the opposite to be true. Their performance suffers, greatly. The brain is not wired to multitask efficiently and effectively.