Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dangers of Digital Dementia

Do you turn to Google rather than your memory to recall a fact? Do you remember your family and friends’ phone numbers, or do you rely on your cell phone? Do you know how to get places, or do you just plug it into your GPS? Chances are you do or at least did recall information, memorize phone numbers and remember directions if you grew up without digital devices, but what about teens and young adults who did not?

Carolyn Brockington speaks of the impact technology is having on our short term memories in “Digital Dementia: The memory problem plaguing teens and young adults.” She reports that in a recent study it was found that 19% of the people between 18 and 39 report poor memories, and much of this is attributed to an over use or over reliance on technology.

Digital Dementia is not just about short term memory, though. With technology neuroscientists are seeing an imbalanced development of the brain where the left hemisphere is developing more than the right. Thus our rational, linear, and fact finding part is overshadowing the intuitive, imaginative and emotional part creating a lateralization of brain function.

In another article, Dr. Bradley Berg, medical director of pediatrics at Scott & White Hospital-Round Rock claims “If a person is constantly letting a computer think for them or are spending hours surfing the Internet, then they are not using their brain and, hence, their neural pathways are not stimulated,” he wrote in an email. “We know very well that neurons that are not used are pruned away.”

Dr. Manfred Spitzer’s, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, findings are more dire. In Digital Dementia: What We and Our Children are Doing to our Minds, he suggests the minimum age for media consumption should be 15 to 18 years old. Though some of Spitzer’s recommendations appear to extreme to some other psychiatrists, many agree that limits need to be set. 

Technology is here to stay, so what do we do to save our brains, along with our children’s and students’ brains? Suggestions from several articles include:
  1. Have a face to face conversation. Don’t always text.
  2. Don’t google a fact that you can’t recall. Spend some time actually thinking about it.
  3. Read a “real” book. It challenges your brain in a different way than text on a screen.
  4. Exercise and spend time in nature. It brings oxygen to the brain as well as stimulates another part creating more balance.
  5. Write by hand.
  6. Most importantly limit screen time and create digital free zones in your home. Dinner table, bedroom, and study times are all suggestions.

 If you have children, though, and especially teens who have grown up without these limits, how to set limits and boundaries is a lengthier discussion and a topic for another blog.

Further Reading:

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