Digital devices dominate modern culture, consuming our attention and distracting our brains throughout the day. It’s easy to see why we dedicate our lives to the devices. Smart phones and tablets have replaced not only our cumbersome landline phones, clocks, calendars, notepads, and CD players, but they have also given us access to a personalized stream of information, video, and communication that we can carry around in our pocket and access virtually anywhere. Even though the conveniences are undeniable, what are digital devices really doing to our brains?
Since the brain has the ability to reprogram itself over time, the way we use digital information and communication has a profound effect on how we maintain focus, learn, and remember things. Neuroscientists believe that the devices aren’t universally damaging our brains; more importantly, it’s how we use devices that makes all the difference.
Instead of avoiding digital devices forever, people can foster ways to help their brain get the most out of its experience balancing real life with digital life. People who regularly use devices must consciously learn to develop their concentration, self-control, and critical-thinking skills at the same time. If they truly want to benefit from technology long term, users must make discerning, aware decisions about the information they are interacting with. In other words, for the brain to stay healthy, the person should always be aware of the information they are consuming, so they are not consumed by the information or distracted from real life.
Today, a person’ digital footprint and personal online privacy is tracked, monitored, and analyzed. Technology companies and advertisers work together to personalize information directly to your digital devices to influence the way you think, vote, and buy. While some people find this a convenient way to receive information and advertisement, they run the risk of letting the device “think” for them. As the brain takes a back seat, it doesn’t engage and process the information. Instead of thinking critically, the brain just accepts the information. In essence, the person does what they are told and becomes what they are fed. In order to maintain the authenticity of the mind, one should actively discern the information that comes to them through their digital devices. In order to expand the brain’s capabilities, one must engage in the pursuit of knowledge, instead of openly accepting information that suits their momentary desires, current bias, and group think.
Devices are also distracting people throughout the day, interrupting the brain’s involvement and steady concentration in the moment. This constant distraction can damage cognitive performance. With all the capabilities of a digital device at their disposal, a person believes they can multitask effectively. However, as they communicate with many and perform multiple tasks at a time, a person actually uses less of their concentration on each engagement. This retrains the brain. With focus split on multiple things, the brain doesn’t absorb the information, the communication, or the experience with the same acuity as if the brain was concentrating on one task at a time. As more tasks are thrown into the mix, the passion is spread thin and the fulfillment of each engagement isn’t achieved.
The so-called knowledge that we receive from our digital devices stimulates our senses, but it is not being absorbed in an effective way. Is this why there is a direct link between screen time and adolescent ADHD? The constant stream of notifications that we receive from our digital devices capture our attention and excites our brain’s reward centers, but we never fully absorb the quality of the engagement. Our brain simply becomes addicted. Our digital devices are distracting our brains so much, the brain looks to the information as a form of stimulation, not true learning and relational fulfillment. Text, picture, and video calls connect people from afar, but the constant digital connections, texts, pokes, and video messages that bombard our senses do not connect people’s brains authentically. The bombardment of “connection” throughout the day trains the brain to accept the stimulation of the experience, without engaging the heart and mind in connections of purpose and meaning.