How smartphones are changing our minds

It can be said that humans are losing their minds. It’s the sad fact that technology sips at our intelligence. We rely on the smart computers (phone) which sit neatly in our pockets for things in which a very capable mind would be able to perform. Memory, simple calculations, etc… There is no longer a need to commit things to memory since smartphones are very much capable of taking care of it. Personal computers are now an extension of the mind. An extension of the mind is an object which replaces, shall we use the term “modules”, in the mind, or the need to store things in the mind, because an external thing fulfills this need. Instead of placing memories in the mind, it’s easier to place them in a phone, and they access them through the phone rather than retrieve them from cerebral memory.

For instance, instead of relying on memorizing what one would see through keen and astute powers of observation, it’s easy to whip out a camera and take a video. A video replaces the need for the mind to remember details and images. A picture is taken instead of committing the imagery to memory. No longer is there a need to do calculations by head and can simply use a calculator app, remember dates with an electronic calendar, or search very hard for certain things (the internet has all the addresses of retailers, services, etc…). There need not be interaction with others to find information.

This poses a problem if an evolutionary psychology view is taken. The current environment of adaptation (EEA) is one which does not require deep modules, and neither is it one which requires (strong) modules. We are but in an age in which information flows faster than air and live in fast-paced lives, and modules would be suited to be quick processors rather than deep processors.

One downfall is that if, for example, an EMP would wipe out every person’s cell phone on earth, what then could they do? They’ve just lost a large part of their memory and mind. Like a type of brain damage, perhaps. Would someone be able to survive one year in a world that has no electricity? Would a person be able to survive one week in the wilderness without a smart gadget? While even with a smart gadget, Kant would argue that humans have been so domesticated in society that we are already lost our natural powers (Kant –What is enlightenment?).

People may argue, “no way, I’m intelligent, we’re living in an intelligent age”. Yes, knowledge has advanced to the length that humans are the intellectual gods of the animal kingdom, but at the same time are also losing the natural mental powers as they are surrendered to technology. There is also the problem of the illusion of intelligence: studies have shown that a person feel more intelligent than we are when we can “google” things1. A person believes they’re smart because they know how to type a sentence into a box and read the words it presents because the knowledge is available to mind with little effort. This is nonsense, and I fear that future generations will not know what it’s like to have to memorize things and/or do your own research. Just like calculators remove the need for a person to have superb mathematical abilities sans tech, calculators sap our need to have time and memory storage taken up by this ability.

It’s also been repeatedly mentioned that smartphones satisfy human needs for attention, and are like little dopamine pills – that’s why they overtake behavior2,3. It’s irresistible to resist the urge to check the phone while they driving, and some may do it automatically, in an reflexive stimulus-response mechanism. Psychological studies have quantitative proof that that splitting up attention by multitasking reduces total attention output, thus reducing awareness4, 5, 6. Humans in the digital age are bombarded with stream upon stream of information from these energized pieces of silicone and plastic that it further reduces focus on single tasks as we must shift attention to keep up. Humans are becoming multitasking satiated empty minds with an inflated sense of overconfidence. Companies who use software and apps have done numerous rigorous psychological studies so that the software is tailored to human’s cognitive abilities, and this makes a more fluent UI and much easier to use, but there are also studies on motivation, attraction, and behavior which can be employed to usurp attention. This can be done by relying on natural human instinct and drive. The nature of the smart gadgets makes it difficult to ignore and cease use.

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While technology poses some risk, and changes cognitive capacities, an upside to this is that technology frees up resources and memory space in the mind. There is nor longer a need to focus on remembering minute details. This can allow for more processing on other things than the minute calculations, and free up time as knowledge is available at the fingertips. In order to work with this, humans must learn new skills in order to quickly synthesize and present information succinctly. Studies have also shown that school-age children who text on their phones have higher literacy scores since they gain knowledge of using phonemes and morphemes7, 8.

A human no longer needs to rely on the minute little calculations or memory storage and can focus on the higher up things, but does lose the basic sense of doing things. This is a way to further distance ourselves from our natural nature as the societal environment is shaped to our liking, we may no longer need our natural instinct, but are advancing past it.

 

References

  1. Fisher, M., Goddu, M. K., & Keil, F. C. Searching for Explanations: How the internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge. (2015) Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(3), 674-687.
  2. Berridge K. C. & Robinson T. E. (1998). What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews, 28, 309–369.
  3. Meuter, R. F. I. & Allport, A. (1999). Bilingual language switching in naming: Asymmetrical costs of language selection. Journal of Memory and Language, 40(1), 25-40.
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/health/teenagers-drugs-smartphones.html. Website. The New York Times. Accessed July 8th, 2017.
  5. Rubinstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E. & Evans, J. E. (2001). Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27, 763-797.
  6. Yeung, N. & Monsell, S. (2003). Switching between tasks of unequal familiarity: The role of stimulus-attribute and response-set selection. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Human Perception and Performance, 29(2): 455-469.
  7. Verheijen L. (2013) The Effects of Text Messaging and Instant Messaging on Literacy. Journal of English Studies, 94(5), 586-602.
  8. Kemp, N. & Bushnell, C. (2011). Children’s Text Messaging: Abbreviations, Input Methods, and Links with Literacy. Computer Assisted Learning. 27, 18-27.
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