“When you use the computer, you outsource your mental activity.”
The national obsession with all things digital, from smartphones to online games to social networking sites, has some health experts worried about our brains.
Particularly in the case of young people, but for the wider and more mature audience as well, the use of digital technology is often a substitute for the use of the human brain, and its ability to store, recall and process information on its own.
The term “digital dementia” was coined a few years ago in South Korea, home to one of the world’s most highly connected and digital-using populations. For years, doctors, neuroscientists and researchers have reported seeing young patients with memory and cognitive problems, conditions more commonly linked to brain injuries like concussions, but now more associated with technology usage.
“From the early 2000s, I’ve seen a drastic increase in patients with reduced memory spans, especially young people. When I looked at it, most of them were exposed of the heavy consumption of digital gadgets,” said Dr. KimYoung-bo, at Gachon University Gil Medical Center in Incheon, who works at the hospital’s brain research institute.
Much like the troubles with memory and cognitive thinking that affects older people and can trigger Alzheimer’s and other dementias due to a overall decline in brain power, activity and usage, doctors see that “digital dementia” in people whose technology does too much of their thinking for them.
Many children don’t memorize anything because they can Google it, a fact that troubles Dr. Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist and psychiatrist. He argues that multitasking and clicking around a website can be too distracting, and can contribute to low attention and impaired learning.
Spitzer is author of the 2012 book Digital Dementia: What We and Our Children are Doing to our Minds.
Spitzer puts the minimum age for media consumption at between 15 and 18 (a shockingly young threshold considering today’s market realities, but one that reflects that fact that teen brains are still ‘in development’ and should be allowed to mature with a greater range of use and application than a technological addiction might allow).
“The more time you spend with screen media … the less (developed) your social skills will be,” he continues, bemoaning that “outsourcing” we all seem to do sometimes.
Maybe that’s what ‘head in the clouds’ is going to mean: continued advances in online computing power and cloud connectivity are being used to do a lot of society’s heavy mental lifting these days; hopefully, that is all in support of brain power, not a replacement for it.
“Digital technology use has been associated with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviours, and attention issues in preschool- and school-aged children,” the American Academy of Pediatrics reported recently, and it published a number of tips for parents to control, manage and limit the time their children spend using it.
Now, all that being said, I forgot to mention Brain Awareness Week – uhh, it was a couple of months ago now, I can’t recall. 😉
submitted by Lee Rickwood