Science: How digital technologies are changing us

Science: How digital technologies are changing us

How’s your attention span these days?

We don’t normally think about it because digital devices are everywhere these days, always in our pockets or purses, in front of our eyeballs. But it’s not the “normal” state of affairs for humans – it was only a very short time ago that we even had apps on our phones. So what does all this stuff do to our brains?

Ask yourself: how long could you sit at a bus stop, alone, without looking at your phone (or listening to music)?

The first problem

The trouble with asking these questions is that the answer to so many of them is “We don’t know.” It takes a long time to see the effects of things like extensive screen time on the brain, and what it means for – say – our face-to-face interactions, how we form relationships, what it does to our sight… So maybe it’ll turn out to be NBD, and we’ll all be heroes who know how to access information like gods. Or maybe, in 50 years, drooling will be up 300 per cent across the population.

On the plus side, if you decide to study this stuff you’ll probably have a job for life. Wipe your chin.

The other problem

Anxiety. This is something we can already see and measure, especially in teenagers. Post a photo of yourself somewhere. Are the digital love-hearts coming in quick enough? Are you stressed?

“The effects of social media depend on whether we use them to connect with loved ones throughout the day and get social support versus compare our lives to the often highly filtered lives of others and expose ourselves to bullying or other negative content,” explains associate professor of human ecology Heather Kirkorian (in a very long sentence which may or may not be a test).

The final problem

It all depends.

On what? Well, on how we use these digital technologies – and that differs depending on who we are, what we’re into and how much access we have to devices, data and a charging station. Watching useful videos to help you understand trigonometry or using daily apps to master Spanish is one thing (okay, two things), but endlessly scrolling social media, comparing yourself to Instamodels and letting YouTube’s algorithm pick what you’re watching next… That’s something very different.

Want to know more about what the current experts think? This article on Vox is very long, so if you can’t finish it…


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