Video Killed the Cognitive Star

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have received the short end of the stick in our technological advancement, and continue to dissipate like our outdated processes.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:

Thompson, Clive. 2013, September 20. Is Google Wrecking Our Memory? Slate, retrieved from:

Wolpert, Stuart. 2009, January 27. Is Technology Producing a Decline in Critical Thinking and Analysis? UCLA Newsroom, retrieved from:

5 thoughts on “Video Killed the Cognitive Star

  1. Jessica M Tangitau

    Great post. This is actually something I think and talk about often. I agree, all of our technology has largely eliminated our need to retain information. Less than 15 years ago I could have rattled off the phone numbers of everyone I knew. Today? The only phone numbers I know “by heart” are literally my own and my husband’s. I saw a meme a while back that said something to the effect of “Respect your elders, they graduated from college without Google”. That is such a true statement and I found it jarring. I absolutely could not fathom writing a lengthy term paper without heavy dependence on the Internet. Not only are the facts right there at our fingertips with minimal effort, but we can also almost always find an example of someone else’ work on the same subject. I believe this is much worse because it truly eliminates our need to think on the topic which limits our ability to transfer the information to our long-term memory for later retrieval. Now, it’s essentially like we have replaced our long-term memory with Google as our storage bank for information.

    Some researchers in Sweden blame the phenomenon on “information overload”. We take in so much information that we’re not able to mentally manage it all and some of it inevitably gets lost before we’re able to process on a deeper level.

    A study done at MIT found that our brain is better able to create long-term memories when we are actively paying attention. However, our multitasking, social media obsessed culture pays less and less attention to the moment. Whether it’s tweeting in class, checking Facebook while watching a movie or doing homework, or watching television while doing anything else – we understand and retain less information when we do this.


    Gregoire, Carolyn. (11 December 2013). How Technology is Warping your Memory. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

  2. Maria Ann Weaver

    I have to agree that technology is effecting our cognition in many ways. I remember how things were when I was in school. No calculators in math class, telling time on second hand watches, and teachers teaching with little use of technology in the classrooms. I see a huge difference among the generations and believe technology plays a huge role in that difference.
    My era learned to tell time on a second hand clock. We didn’t have digital watches (because they were expensive) and we weren’t allowed to wear them to class if we did. We weren’t allowed to use calculators in class unless you needed a scientific calculator for the upper level math classes. We didn’t have cable or internet in the classrooms either. With this being said, I see a huge difference in my children and how their generation is taught.
    My kids were not forced to use a second hand clock for telling time. Instead, it was acceptable for them to have a digital watch. My kids were also able to use basic calculators in math class where basic information was being taught. My kids have to really stop and think before they give change to someone because they don’t have a calculator to figure it out. I’ve seen this in public at summer baseball games too. The kids working the concession stand need calculators to figure up your order total and then give you change. My kids also have internet access in the classrooms and we never did. We weren’t even able to watch current events on TV in the classroom. We had to use newspapers or magazines for current event issues or assignments.
    I think today’s younger generation has less problem solving skills and less cognitive engagement because of the technology used in their everyday lives. It saddens me to see that their basic cognitive skills aren’t being developed like the older generations were. Not only is it sad, but it’s scary too.

  3. Catherine Adams

    In many ways I have to agree with your Blog. I have noticed that the ability to remember many items, such as phone numbers, are more difficult to recall than they were when I was growing up. However, I am not sure this is because I do not have to recall the number or the fact that I do not have the need to repeat the task of dialing the number as I did not the past which would hinder my transfer-appropriate processing and muscle memory.
    I have also noticed that my son’s school relies heavily on electronic media for presentations, class work and homework assignments and his level of being able to tell me what he learned through this is lower than when the lesson is given by a person. When a person is teaching he will stay more engaged because of eye contact and the fact that it can be pointed out when he is not paying attention; if there is a lesson by video then he can “zone out” without being noticed. But like you stated this does not mean that technology is detrimental to learning, just that it needs to be used in balance with other methods of learning.
    It is also noticeable, particularly in schools, that the ability to hide behind a computer and “cyberbully” has caused more problems than we had in the past. Before technology students could get away from bullies but now through social media and texting this is not possible and has been the cause of suicides. On the positive side, again using my son as an example, it is now easy to talk with people from other countries in real time. He has learned about other cultures and ways of living from people all over the world.
    One way I strongly believe to help lower the detriments of technology is by school’s systems bringing back the basics that have been taken away. For example, it is now rare for a child to learn how to read or write in cursive, even though this can be an important skill.
    Catherine Adams

  4. Christopher Lee Robertson

    I do not believe that technology is making people less capable of critical thinking but that we are dumbing down our culture in a plethora of ways, and the way we use technology does not always help. My biggest issue with technology and its effect on us all is social, or the development of social intelligence. Next time you go out to dinner try looking around at other tables, and count how many people you see either staring at a handheld device or at the plethora of television screens that litter most restaurants now. Many people no longer sit and enjoy time with the ones the care about without the distraction of a device or screen of some sort. You must work to maintain social relationships and liking someone’s Facebook post does not count, as friendship.
    My disagreement with your stance is in the fact that I do not believe that technology is at fault for the dumbing down of our culture. Technology such as the calculator and GPS have made our lives easier, as has spell check. If people are not learning how to spell common words, or even less common words it is not spell checks fault but the education systems, and or parental guardians. Technology is not to blame but the way we use technology is. The fact that you can Google anything and within seconds have access to so much information is amazing, we as a society however need to learn some moderation and occasionally put down the devices and do some work on our own. I do not believe it is technology that is the problem, but it is our overreliance on said technology.

  5. jmr6242

    Interesting read. Although I’m inclined to disagree with you on the concept of prejudice as a cognitive bias (one could argue the point as a learned behavioral norm, but certainly not inherent), I think you’re correct in pointing out the dependency that many people have developed on technology as a fantastic point-counterpoint argument regarding the abundance of “smart” technology. I find the area of this conversation around memory to be the most engaging, particularly in the realm of the functional.
    A great example of this is my experience living in a new city, with a new job, and a short, but a bit of an odd route I had to drive every day to get to my office. Thanks to a GPS system in my car, I was able to navigate the confusing maze of random turns, sudden one-ways, and complex traffic with little to no effort, as my navigation system simply told me where to turn.
    I travelled to work this way for a long time. Every day, my morning routine outside of breakfast, caffeine, and a quick workout involved hopping in my car and setting the GPS to guide me to my work. I never stopped to consider the potential effects it might have.
    Three months later, I was getting ready for work when the unthinkable happened. My dog, attempting to seat himself in the car (he loved going for rides), bumped my elbow as he passed, just as I was reaching over the center console to turn on my GPS. The energy drink clutched in my hand bobbled, and I watched, helpless, as a great glob of syrupy, caffeine infused sugar water cascaded down onto the screen of my navigation unit, effectively destroying it. I tried to wipe it clean, but it was no use. They system was fried.
    My commute that morning, usually a 10 minute drive, took me over an hour.
    I had, for all intents and purposes, allowed the GPS system to replace memory when finding my way to work every day. After three months of driving the same route every morning, I was unable to recall which turns, streets, or blocks I needed to travel to make it to my destination.
    Over the next couple of days, the situation became bearable, and my functional memory stepped in to fill the gap. By the end of the week, my commute took no longer than usual, and I had the auspicious gift of ten extra minutes of sleep, now that my GPS boot-up time no longer factored into my morning routine.
    It’s frightening, honestly, how easily technology can cause cognitive processes to go dormant. They simply aren’t required. What that says for the evolution of the human brain remains to be seen… But it doesn’t look good.

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