These days, there is certainly a lot being discussed about the impact of technology on our brains, our behaviors, and our ability to live generally happy lives. Much of that discussion talks about the negative impact in particular, specifically citing our smartphones as one of the main technology culprits. To miss the discussion, you would literally need to have your head buried in the sand (or your smartphone).
Some pieces cite how smartphones actually reduce your cognitive capabilities just by being near you. Given that, I’ve probably been reduced to a barely functional rock given how much of an appendage my cell phone has become. To that end, I’ve even written about how my smartphone created a work-life balance problem of undefined boundaries.
Others talk about how we need to curb our addiction and find a better balance around how we use technology.
Despite my own perspectives and points of view, I wondered what was true and what was anecdotal.
What are the researchers and scientists saying?
In my search for scientific validation for what many of us feel on a day to day basis, I found a compelling if not surprising article from Science News that compiled a significant amount of recent research from a number of small and large studies.
All of the studies were aimed at the same thing. They were trying to conclusively understand the impact technology is having on our brains.
6 Profound Statistics
Here are six of the more profound findings from the various different studies cited in the article:
- 90% of Americans reported using a technology device within one hour of bedtime.
- 49% of college students reported checking their phones at least once overnight.
- Over half of college students in one study unlocked their phones more than 60 times a day to find out “what they were missing” while they weren’t engaged with their phones. Each session lasted about three to four minutes totaling 220 minutes a day.
- 45% of 14 to 18-year old adolescents reported “always” or “almost always” texting while watching television in a large study.
- Ten minutes: the amount of time that could pass before heavy technology users showed visible signs of anxiety.
- Five hours broken up into 85 distinct sessions: the amount of time 18 to 33-year old young adults spent on their cell phone every day in another research study.
Those are stark numbers. It clearly means that smartphones are really, really bad and are are changing us in ways that are for the worse, right? Maybe, but maybe not.
A Surprising Conclusion
That is certainly a viable conclusion that many of us lay people have arrived at. I find myself regularly talking about the fact that as great as the technology is, we don’t know how to use it the right way, we get addicted to it, and it negatively impacts our happiness.
Here’s the shocking conclusion, though. Despite the starkness of the statistics from the research studies, almost all researches studying this issue agree that we don’t really know yet how all of this influx of technology is changing our brains. This coming from neurobiologists to evolutionary biologists to cognitive psychologists. That means we can’t really say what is better and what is worse.
They just know something is happening to how we remember things (and what we now rely on technology to remember for us), how we navigate (or how we let technology do the driving), and our pursuit of happiness.
The article cites evolutionary biologist, Leah Krubitzer, who summed it up well when she articulated:
“The human neocortex basically re-creates itself over successive generations. It’s a given that people raised in a digital environment are going to have brains that reflect that environment. We went from using stones to crack nuts to texting on a daily basis. Clearly the brain has changed.”
For more information on these studies, read the full article. It provides some fascinating scientific insight around how our brains work and adapt to our environment even though we don’t know conclusively what it all means quite yet.