Do our smart devices dumb us down?

For as long as we have had the internet; then, globally-connected mobile phones rapidly transforming into all-knowing devices, we’ve also had congruent scientific studies looking at whether or not this is actually good for us. 

Our phones can accurately tell us when we need to get to bed.  Google Maps can get us round a morning traffic jam when we’ve got an important meeting.  EAT24 or Urbanspoon can recommend ‘the best restaurant ever’ for our lunch-time meeting. At the gym, our wearables can watch over our heart rate while Instagram brings the good news that we’ve been resoundingly ‘liked’ today.  Reliably, Netflix can tell us what we most want to binge-watch tonight and Amazon already knows what we will purchase tomorrow. 

Life’s just peachy… Or is it?

Somewhere along the road from predictive to prescriptive, we’re finding ourselves being run by the machine, and it’s not actually making us smarter or happier; more relaxed, productive, creative; or more likely to realise our human dreams.

Neuroscience has proved that the dopamine sensors in our brains are pure click bait.

As our critical thinking skills and other cognitive abilities sink in the dopamine-drenched sea of our tech addictions, fake news across our ubiquitous social media rises around the world, influencing the entrenchment of totalitarian nationalistic regimes, even in the USA, where we once took the prevalence of democratic, free-thinking institutions for granted.

It’s not just our cognitive skills that fallen off; our basic skills at being human have also taken a dive.  Empathy and integrity; valuing just being; self-reflection; connection to others and the real world around us are all waning as the allure of virtual worlds grows more intense.

Is it dumb?  Consider these scenarios:

  • Your child tugs at your sleeve for attention.  She says she wishes you didn’t play that game on your phone all the time.  You tell her: you have to, you can’t let your online community down, and you keep on playing while she puts herself to sleep…
  • Your partner wants to organise a camping weekend away with a couple of families in your school community.  You are horrified to learn there will be no Wi-Fi and no signal.  Your partner and kids can’t wait, but you think it’s a bad idea and veto it…
  • You’re home for the varsity break.  Your parents are delighted and organise sporadic family and friend get-togethers.  You say you can’t do them.  Your break is for relaxing and the only way you do that is on the couch alone in front of your screen….
  • You’re four years old and you can’t reach a chocolate while you wait in the queue at the shop.  You scream.  Your Dad hands you his phone.  You click on a game and forget about fussing about the chocolate.  You forget about real life and don’t develop self-control…
  • You arrive 8 minutes early for an important project meeting, take a seat in reception and pull out your phone.  Other people you will be meeting with arrive too, and you quickly say ‘Hi’ while you return to checking Instagram.  You go into the meeting with those you need to work with closely but you haven’t paid them any meaningful human attention…

Here are some signs of technology over-use and addiction

  • You prefer screen time to real-life socialising
  • You prefer screen time to physical activity
  • You prefer screen time to taking care of your responsibilities
  • You think, and tell others, that your screen time is the best way for you to relax
  • You won’t disappoint your online friends by quitting playing; but you live with disappointing those closest to you because of your screen distractions
  • You’re on your phone before you turn the lights out at night and first thing when you awake
  • Social media loves and likes are more thrilling than real-life approvals
  • Social media slights and insults are more devastating than real-life disapprovals
  • You avoid conflict and authentic conversations
  • You are restless, depressed, anxious, moody or irritable when you are not online
  • You experience your virtual world as bigger and more valuable than your real life


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