In every corner of the Earth, there’s someone using technology. Whether it is a tablet, a cellphone, or a laptop, someone is engaging with an electronic. Today’s society is driven by immediate gratification, which we achieve through instantaneous messages, live updates, and social media. Picking up an encyclopedia to read for knowledge or finding a good book to immerse oneself has become a thing of the past. Recently a popular talk show discussed the idea of not needing to know how to spell common words because spell check does it automatically. But has this progression actually been a hindrance to our cognitive health? Perhaps there is an over reliance on technology to solve what our brains once could do? The reality seems to be that cognitive skills and problem-solving have received the short end of the stick in our technological advancement, and continue to dissipate like our outdated processes. Problem-solving skills, memory, and emotion processing decline because of our technology use. It can be hoped that advocacy for using less technology and increasing physical and mental activity may rectify this well-defined problem.
One of the best features humans have is the ability to critically think. Problem-solving is commonly taught throughout all levels of schooling and mandated for most employment opportunities. It is a prerequisite for life and learning how to do it effectively can be a lifelong challenge. Thanks to technology, some problem-solving can be done immediately. Think of calculators or thermometers. It’s a wonder what people ever did before they existed. School systems have even begun to implement videos into their curriculum, with parents supporting visual learning a lot more as well. Consequently, it was also found that wiring the classroom for internet access does not enhance learning. One study analyzed the retention of lecture information and tested students who had internet access during class and those without. Those without internet access did better than those with internet access (Wolfpert, 2009). Reading develops critical thinking, reflection, induction, and imagination, yet reading has also declined in the lack couple of decades among young people (Wolfpert, 2009). Patricia Greenfield, a psychologist at UCLA found that reading for pleasure enhances thinking and engages imagination in a way that visual media does not (Wolfpert, 2009). Surely students may learn to think in more engaging ways and absolve their functional fixedness, the inability to see objects, people, or events in views outside of what is customary for them, by learning in multiple forms. It is simply a matter of finding a balance between using multiple methods of visual and audible learning.
Rarely ever do we go to a payphone and dial in our friend’s number. Cellphones today are equipped with an address book and a favorites list to make phone calls more convenient. What does this mean for our memories though? When was the last time we were required to remember a phone number, or a grocery list, or a show time? Scientist at Columbia University ran experiments on how students remembered random trivia. Students were given random trivia facts and requested to place them in a folder labeled true or fact. Some students were told the computer would save which folder they were in. Later on, students were asked to recall which facts were placed in the fact folder. The results indicated that students who knew the computer saved the information were less likely to remember the trivia facts (Thompson, 2013). When we know a device will remember a piece of information for us, we will less likely remember it ourselves. It was found that 40 percent of all search queries were of people trying to refresh details of something they previously knew (Thompson, 2013). Recalling information involves both short-term and long-term memory. If we are overindulged in our apps and cellphones, it would be hard to retain information in your short-term memory, and even harder to encode that into long-term memory. Helpful it may be, technology should be a tool not a guide.
Lastly, technology has a great way of bridging the gap that land and sea have created. People from all over the world can communicate with each other in seconds or minutes. While people are fond of getting to know each other and transcend to another place online, some people maintain the extent of substituting physical relationships with electronic ones. Consequently, these people experience social isolation when withdrawn from their devices (Lickerman, 2010). Being online can also give the advantage of identity protection in some cases, and this can make confrontations and harassment (Lickerman, 2010). It’s possible that people are more irresponsible and hurtful with their dialogue since their comments can’t be traced directly to their person. Empathy, compassion, and sympathy can be reduced by offering an anonymous platform to be just the opposite. Cognitive biases like prejudice that misrepresent social issues are given a platform on social media and their own websites. While the internet can be great for achieving factual information, it does a disservice to gaining the interpersonal interactions lexchanged in communicating.
How and what we perceive as a problem plays a big role in how we solve it. Improving through mechanical and online advancement has been a significant goal of civilizations. The benefits of our progress are never fully aligned with their detriments; therefore we’ve never perceived any need for a resolve. The fact of the matter remains that improvement is necessary, but our previous modes of communication, reading, and learning are still very vital to our cognitive health. We are sacrificing our mental capabilities in exchange for convenience. In return our spelling, our intelligence, our memory, and our creativity suffer. This is not to justify a ban on all technology or to limit the advancement of machinery and electronic tools. This is to make others aware of the implications of cognitive dependence on technology. Social psychologist and educators should start intervention at an early age, introducing children to more interesting ways in reading, reinforcing the family to try trivia and mental activities, or to advocate a reduced amount of cellphone or internet usage. The primary importance is that society advances without compromising any aspect of our health.
Lickerman, Alex. 2010, June 8. The Effect of Technology on Relationships. Psychology Today, retrieved from:https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201006/the-effect-technology-relationships
Thompson, Clive. 2013, September 20. Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? Slate, retrieved from: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2013/09/are_search_engines_and_the_internet_hurting_human_memory.2.html
Wolpert, Stuart. 2009, January 27. Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? UCLA Newsroom, retrieved from: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/is-technology-producing-a-decline-79127