Will Our Brains Survive the Digital Age?

In a new series devoted to the effects of our reliance on digital devices in this modern world, the NY Times takes a serious look at the collateral damage in “Your Brain on Computers”. Citing such cognitive calamities as memory loss, a weakening in our ability to focus, an increase in impatience, and fractured thinking, the expose draws on the expertise of psychologists, neuroscientists and communications specialists to warn us of the possible dangers of being too connected.

All of the digital technology available to us today: smartphones, e-readers, workstations, netbooks, and game players, to name a few, make us more prone to multitask. Several of the articles argue that multitasking, while in and of itself is very useful, can lead to sloppy work and an increase in mistakes made. Inundated by a plethora of information, the multitasker finds it hard to separate the vital details from the irrelevant ones. Many of the experts believe that the multitasker is less likely to be able to focus and is easily distracted, even after their tasks are completed.

Then there is the drug of that next ding indicating you have mail, luring you back to the screen and away from what you are currently working on. Or the flashing notice of a tweet. Or the buzzing of your smartphone with a new text. All of these invade your focus, fracturing your train of thought, and eliciting a dopamine response within your brain similar to the fight/flight adrenaline of our ancestors. These chemical responses create stress on your brain, causing shallow thinking, reduced creativity and weakened concentration.

One thing that most of the experts agree on is the necessity for technology users to impose a sort of digital detox on themselves. Living life unplugged for some portion of the day can increase the brain’s ability to recover from the ravages of information overload. By concentrating on one thing, such as reading a book or immersing yourself in a hobby, the brain is given time to relax and break habits formed by constantly answering the siren call of a digital device.