There was a very interesting article in the Australian Financial Review on 24th October 2012. The article focused on the research out of Oxford University by neuroscientist Susan Greenfield and was all about how technology short cuts brain power…when you finish reading it, it’s a real no brainer.
“Technology should be a means rather than an end”, says neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, who warns that our addiction to social media and devices will come at a cost to our skills and productivity.
We are on a warning from neuroscientists that the human brain adapts to its environment and since our environment is changing and becoming more technology centred, more…we only need to navigate the web we don’t really need to think, more…we don’t need to solve the problem we can surf the net for a solution, more…we don’t need to read we can watch it on you tube instead, more…I’ll study it online for free and think about the qual – oh boy – I’m not liking this at all…
Greenfield talks about a survey in the UK where the results indicated that 91% of teachers believe children’s attention spans are becoming shorter because of their growing addiction to screens. And there is no shortage of screen based technology that children have access to – from the traditional television, to the computer, the tablets or iPads, the mobile phone devices etc. Consider then the multiplicity of activities available on these various screens – anywhere – anytime. Not surprisingly this was a common theme at a Mind and Its Potential Conference I attended a couple of years ago.
Some children are involved in very little imaginative play, very little rough and tumble play, very little dress up play and little music and art play. Some don’t even wander around the neighbourhood anymore – and those that do have a mobile phone with them. I was at a restaurant not long ago and observed three children with their parents having breakfast. All five of them were paying more attention to their mobile devices than each other. Pay attention next time you are out and see what kind of conversations are happening around you.
But I digress – back to the survey. Survey said that children are spending three times as much time in front of screens than they do with their head in a book or um, a Kindle or equivalent! Now think about what they are watching. The duration of the scenes in movies, comics and the like these days are FAST, with some shots not even lasting for one second. Think back and compare that to the older cartoons that you perhaps grew up with. Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z are at least 10 years old – and the duration of the shots/scenes is slow by comparison. If you are old enough to remember Simba the White Lion or the Flinstones you can probably make a cup of tea before the shots change.
Our brains have come to expect constant change and the result of all the extra stimuli, is the incomplete formation of brain pathways in children. The lack of rough and tumble play allowed between children (we don’t want little Johnny to get hurt now do we) means that the empathy centres in the brain are not forming properly. When I was little, my favourite Sunday afternoon game was the family wrestle – determined little girls and one ex boxing champion father, trying to pin shoulders on the ground for the count of three. We learnt how far we could go before causing pain, how to recognise the signs that someone was indeed experiencing pain. Nowadays its almost a 180 degree turn as video games with blood, death and destruction desensitise those who partake!
The fact that we spend less time in face to face contact and more time in front of screens could signal potential problems understanding body language and effectively working in teams in workplaces – unless of course they are all virtual and we can communicate behind a screen of some description! Apparently we will be very good at processing multitudes of information but not real smart about understanding it.
Back to empathy – in 2010 the University of Michigan released a study that found that college students had empathy levels 40% lower than students of twenty or thirty years ago, with the biggest decline in empathy levels occurring since 2000.
We can’t ditch technology – there are so many benefits to having it. We just need to be clever, creative and innovative about how we engage with it. Technology is here to stay but some days I think the Sci-Fi movies that depict technology running us don’t seem so far fetched.
You must excuse me now. I have to txt my children (they are in the room next door), that it’s time for bed. I’ll face – time them a kiss goodnight while I shop on line for tomorrows groceries. Oh dear I better check with Siri what I actually have on tomorrow!