Have you noticed your attention span is getting shorter? Do you find yourself picking up your phone more often? Turning to Google or Alexa whenever you have a question? If you have answered yes to any of these, then you might need to read on …
Those of us of a certain age will remember having to rely on books and research to help us with our school homework. I would spend many a Sunday afternoon having to borrow an encyclopedia from another kid in our street so I could look something up. Yes, I should have visited the school library and borrowed what I needed to get the assignment done … but there were more interesting things to do, so of course, it was all left to the last minute.
We used to have to look things up, write them down, memorise them, photocopy them, scribble on them, make notes … learning exercised our brains. Studying and referencing was a skill that took time and diligence.
Today we have smartphones in our pockets. A magical device, bursting with every fact and figure we ever needed. All we have to do is speak or press a few buttons and the answer to almost anything we ask is available instantly.
While it is really useful to find a recipe, research DIY tips or check out if Chris Hemsworth is married, these smartphones have a dark side. They are making it too easy for us. Those skills we honed before smartphones were a permanent feature in our lives and perpetually in our hands are being lost.
The problem with having the potential to know everything is that we need to remember nothing, apart from how to use our phones to find everything. Does that make sense? Rather than being knowledgeable, all we need to remember is the bare minimum. But by constantly looking everything up on a need-to-know basis, we are not committing anything to our long-term memory.
That is the part of our brain that remembers things from way back, really useful things like how to tie our shoe laces or successful pancake recipes (3-2-1 is all you need to remember – 300ml of milk, 2 eggs and 100g of plain flour, and yes, that was from memory before you ask).
But do we really need to remember things if we can find them online whenever we need them? Of course we do! Our brains need exercise just like the rest of our bodies, so if we keep relying on our smartphones to to do the remembering for us, we will get to the point where we store less and less information in our brains.
Going back to my Sunday afternoon homework panics, I can still remember the names of clouds I had to research for my assignment 35 years ago. The act of researching and writing it all down committed it to my memory. But if you asked me how to do something that Google or YouTube taught me in more recent years, I wouldn’t have a clue … like most people I’d pick up my phone and search for it.
This is where it gets unsettling – if I need to watch a YouTube video or need a search engine to point me in the right direction, rather than my own brain, I’m not learning that new skill. OK, I’m feeling quite pleased with myself that I’ve found the answer to my issue and got on with my day, but because I have not worked it out myself my brain won’t learn from the process. I’m just faking it, faking my intelligence and creating an illusion of my own abilities.
I’m constantly warning generations older and younger than me that the internet is not moderated – nobody fact checks everything we post before it’s published on the web for the world to see. Yet sometimes even I will read something online, momentarily forgetting my own advice, believing the words before me. But the internet is bursting with inaccurate and often deceptive or manipulative information, so not only are you damaging your brain by making it lazy, but what you do remember or learn could in fact be utter gumpf.
A colleague of mine lost their internet access for 3 days recently and her world fell apart. The kids couldn’t home school and being without all the things they took for granted like TV, gaming, social media and news left the family feeling quite lost and cut-off. I found this quite alarming. If we have landline telephones, books, radio, and terrestrial television, along with board games and the great outdoors, was it really that devastating to be without the online world?
All the old ways of researching are still there, so we really don’t need to rely on on-line tools. OK, so they may genuinely save us time now and then, but finding the answer online can leave you feeling empty and lacking that sense of fulfillment and satisfaction you get from a job well done.
So how can you combat lazy brain, feel good about yourself, but not banish the useful and magical devices we have in our lives?
First of all, give yourself time and space to work things through. Look at the problem you face, break it down into small chunks that are less overwhelming, and then see how you get on. You’ll be amazed at how much you do actually know, then you can probably ask another person to help you with the bits you don’t. Then if you are really stuck, or need a little extra reassurance, turn to the search engines.
Fight the urge to kill a moment or conversation with fast facts from your phone – embrace conversation with another person and talk about the questions you have. Quite often you have the answers, but you just aren’t giving yourselves the time to find them. Even quizzes used to be great fun until people killed them by cheating on their smartphones.
We often hear of mindfulness being recommended as a self-care tool – it looks at being present and enjoying the moment you are in. Slow down – they are on to something here, it’s not a race. By taking your time and relaxing, your brain can join the party, releasing all those nuggets of information you stored away.
Smartphones are great, don’t get me wrong. I still cant believe that something so powerful fits in my pocket, when not so long ago my desktop 486SX with 1MB RAM was the bees knees. Your smartphone can be an asset if used correctly, performing tasks that were science fiction when I bought my first PC.
Don’t let your phone rob you of the richness your life had before they existed. Feed your memory with your own research and experiences and stop the internet from damaging your thinking skills. Your brain will thank you for it.