How Is Technology Affecting Our Brains?

We are surrounded by technology all around us. The very fact that you are on this page right now, shows how much technology has affected our lives and daily routines. The first thing most of us do when we wake up every morning is to check our phones. Technology has brought every information available on every single topic right to our fingertips. With on single click you can get thousands of results to query, meet new people, stay updated, and spend hours watching videos of cats. But after all, what is the effect of technology on our brains and behaviour? Here is what various studies show:

Attention

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Your exams are near, and after much efforts, you finally sit down with that thick book. It has been hardly five minutes since you started reading, that your phone buzzes, it’s a short buzz, so probably a message or alert. It takes you hardly a split second to check what it is. No matter how well concentrated you were, there is something that makes you just grab the device as soon as possible, and check out what is the notification about. We have all been there, and done that.Increased exposure to social media, has decreased our attention spans. The need for immediate answers has decreased our ability to focus. A 2015 study by Microsoft has shown that the focus span of an average person has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the past decade. Goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds! Pew Research Centre in 2012 found out that about 87 percent students have difficulty in focusing. Almost all studies back up the idea, that with increased exposure to technology, attention spans have reduced.

Mood

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It is of no surprise that a lot of people around us are suffering from some form of depression or the other. Majority of teenagers today are unhappy. Some are jealous of someone else’s accomplishments, some are unhappy with themselves, and some are just depressed for no reason in general. Health Education expert Dr. Aric Sigman found a relationship between the amount of time spent on the internet and depression. Higher exposure to idealized images, has made the average person hate his life more, and be depressed. When you see someone with prettier clothes, or a slimmer body, or having tasty food, or in a relationship, you feel bad about your life, even though these are just pictures, and say a lot less about reality. No one has a perfect life, but so is portrayed on the internet, which affects our mood. Sigman’s study shows that a girl who direct texts her mother has higher level of cortisol (sad hormone) than oxytocin (happy hormone) in comparison to a girl who physically communicates with her mother. Our brains are hardwired to stay in contact with people we care about, and a lack of such contact puts us under certain amount of depression.

Memory

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There was a time when we could remember tens of phone numbers, hundreds of names, and many other information related to our daily lives. But with the comfort of saving this information online has reduced our ability to learn. Most of us can hardly remember 10 numbers. My closest friend doesn’t even remember my number, because with the facility to save it on his phone he doesn’t need to. And that is actually the truth. But this new habit is re-wiring our brains. When we remember new information, it is a kind of exercise for our brains, but with reduced activity and efforts to learn new information, our memory power is decreasing. Professor James Barnes of University of Bedfordshire says that increased dependency on technology affects the frontal lobe of the brain in particular, which controls functions like organizing and planning. But there might be certain advantages to technology too. When you store less information on an external source, you rid your brain of useless information, thus making up space for newer more important information. So in brief, storing on external devices might help but one should not depend completely on such external storage and keep the mind active, to avoid backfire.

Sleep

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Evolution has programmed us to wake be sensitive to blue light. Why? Because before technology, we had to wake up in the morning at the right time, to gather food and resources, and to be aware of when the sun was up, we developed better sense of blue light of the sun light, that is the most abundant.  So whenever our eyes sense blue light, the brain triggers our body to stay awake, under false assumption that it is day, the time to stay awake. The LED screens of our devices emit mostly blue light. Even social apps like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have the main theme colour as blue. This prevents our brains from producing melatonin, the sleep hormone. This adversely affects our sleep cycles. I personally am a victim, as I am sure most of you are. It is next to impossible to sleep before 3 or 4, more so when I am hooked up on social media. According to a 2015 study we engage for about 8 hours and 41 minutes at an average with technology and sleep for just 8 hours and 21 minutes. (Just 8 hours 41 minutes?!?! Those are rookie numbers!). The lack of sleep also leads to depression and lack of concentration

Social Skills

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We have all been in some or the other awkward social encounter, and to avoid awkward talks or long silence, we just keep swiping on our phones, or just play a game of candy crush or clash of clans. We had rather stare at a screen, than engage in physical communication with someone. Ironically though, we can spend hours chatting with someone over the internet. In a study kids with more exposure to technology found it hard to read their parents faces. They could not tell apart whether their parents were angry, sad, or just normal. They always replied that its hard to tell. But children who were made to play out side, or read books, were more successful in telling apart facial expression, like when their parents were angry, or when they are about to scold them, or just surprised. lack of social skills can greatly affect our careers negatively, and not to mention our love life too,

Reading and Information

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With the availability of all the information we need, it is easier to answer the curiosities within us. A study has shown that more children engage in reading books with the availability of internet. they can find and download any book they want. Though more people prefer reading short articles, it has brought more children to pursue reading as a hobby. But this has a negative side too. Since anyone can post anything, most people are careless as to find out what is true and what is not. To avoid being wrong, we blindly believe anything that fits our bias, and this is what is actually making most of us stupid. Any hoax gains a lot of publicity and many people fall victim to fake news and information. This area needs more research but it isn’t wrong to say, you can become  either stupid or intelligent by reading over the internet, it all depends on the way you use it. Double check what you read, read more about the topics from books rather than posts, and trust peer-reviewed news and not pseudoscientific fake news. I personally am a lot dependent on books I download over the internet, and this is the reason that basically made me go into reading. Although without blue light filters, and over exposure, can be harmful for your eyesight and brain health.

Ghost Phone Calls

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This is one strange thing. You are busy doing your job when suddenly you feel your phone buzzing and sometimes even ‘hear’ the ring, but when you check, you find no notification or call at all. This is what a ghost call is. You are so bent on to stay connected, and not miss a single call or text, that even a slight movement of your leg or a numbness, sometimes fools your brain to think your phone is buzzing. The brain has been reprogrammed to star aware of the notifications. There is a fear of missing a call or text, A US study found out that at least 90 percent students have experienced ghost phone calls. So the next time you feel your phone buzzing in  your pocket, it might be your brain fooling  you.

Navigation

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This is one of the biggest impacts of technology. With the vast network of geostationary satellites hovering above Earth, keeping the virtual maps on our devices updated, our travel life has certainly changed. With the GPS facility just one touch away, we are free of the pressure of finding our way to the destination. Some studies suggest this has also affected our memory, and over dependence on GPS might be responsible for considerable road accidents, a limited and controlled dependence has surely brought revolution in the travel industry.

Multitasking

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Dr Glenn Wilson, a Psychologist, has dubbed our generation, as the age of ‘infomania’. His study found that the IQ of students in a room full of phones ringing dropped by 10 points at an average compared to the students in a quite room. Similarly an US study found that students who instantly texted back while they were performing some task took about 30 to 60 percent extra time to complete the task compared to a student whose only focus was on that same task. Our tendency to reply simultaneously, know-it-all, has made us to try to multi task, which harms both the tasks we are attempting to do. In contrast a Japanese study shows that a wise use of technology has actually made us better in multitasking and handling many tasks. Employees are more efficient, and give better outputs than their counterparts.

In Brief…

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In brief I would say that just like a coin, even technology has two faces. An overuse of devices, and too much dependence can impact our sleep patterns, moods, and memories, but a wise, and balanced use of internet and technology, can help us learn more, filter facts better, learn new things faster and also perhaps be better at organizing multiple tasks. So although it is necessary to devote time to take your eyes off the screen, and go offline, that does not mean you stop visiting my website, because after all a wise use of the facility can result in a better understanding of the world around you. So keep reading my website, learning new things, but also spend some time with the people around you. Happy Reading!

-The Cosmogasmic Person

PS : This post was inspired from an article in BBC Knowledge Volume 7 Issue 2

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